My approach to language and languaging
I take a heteroglossic view of language, that is, I consider any utterance as consisting of various social languages and voices, and as always referring to previous utterances as well as anticipating future ones. Following Bakhtinian thought, the integrational linguistics programme (R. Harris) and Critical Applied Linguistics (A. Pennycook), I see language as an abstraction of spatio-temporally unique communication events that are always inseparable from social context and ideology. I'm interested in language issues that arise from such a conception of language, for instance, phenomena of discourse and translation, always aiming to have a strong basis in critical theory, specifically social constructionist, feminist and post-structuralist approaches to power and ideology. I study language as a subversive and transformational practice to challenge established power relations. Languages and nations came into existence at the same time, reinforcing each other as imagined communities (Andersen), so the existence of nations, languages and linguistic communities as constructed, idealised concepts should be present in any linguistic analysis. I thus see language, or languaging, its use, learning and teaching, as a culturally productive activity, creating and not just reflecting social reality. The study of language I'm most interested in is thus driven by three main motives: First, it has a strong critical element, the desire to use research to achieve a change in society. Second, it is also empirical, drawing on corpora, though not limiting itself to corpus linguistics and its focus on method, but rather using corpora as a means to an end. And third, it must include a strong interdisciplinary aspect, seeing language as fundamentally related to disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, psychology and others.
Cross-linguistic studies of power relations in discourse
Cross-linguistic corpus-assisted discourse studies is a growing field of research, especially due to the increasing importance of social media for politics and society and the availability of social media corpora. I'm interested in how political and social issues are constructed, driven and represented through linguistic devices such as hashtags and metaphors and how these practices work to establish and maintain power relations in society. Economic issues are often referred to using metaphors from the domain of education, for instance, “doing homework”, “model pupil” and “learning lessons”. In a corpus-assisted study of German and English newspapers, published in Discourse & Society, I argue that the expression is a structural metaphor and an understatement, presenting complex issues in an oversimplifying manner. I show that the metaphor (not) doing homework is used to refer to economic issues and has thus become a regular instrument in asserting relations of power and authority in political discourse. I have also published a chapter where I study the #MeToo hashtag, analysing its regular collocates and the evaluative stance displayed towards it in Twitter discourse across languages. I find that #MeToo seems to be talked about in more negative terms in German tweets compared to English and Spanish, as shown by a qualitative analysis of evaluative author stance. Along with my PhD student Xiang Huang, I have co-authored an article in CADAAD Journal analysing how Chinese media discourse constructs for itself an authoritative position, educating about obesity as a national health issue. This happens mainly along traditional collectivist lines using war and journey metaphors, but also appealing to more neoliberal, individualist attitudes with financial metaphors. I have published two conceptual articles, where I reflect on the role of discourse on social media and some discursive structures of exclusion (published in Humanities & Social Sciences Communications) that were apparent during the pandemic in Germany, Spain and other countries. I argue that discursive struggle was often constructed along ideological lines, while the role of class conflict was ignored, which contributed to the social polarisation that was perceived by many across countries (article in Media and Communication).
From soldiers to scapegoats: Why blaming citizens in the pandemic may help extremist parties (4 November 2020, Discover Society)
“While the beginning of the pandemic was marked by warlike discourse, constructing a situation of an ‘all-bets-are-off, anything-goes approach to emerging victorious’, addressing citizens as ‘soldiers’ to rally them together to ‘fight’ the ‘invisible enemy’, the discourses surrounding the ‘second wave’ have little to do with community and more with mutual recrimination. Having left war metaphors behind, politicians, helped by a largely sensationalist media, pit people against each other, identifying particular groups such as migrants, youths or ‘deniers” and placing blame on them for each surge in cases.”
Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn? (8 April 2020, Der Freitag)
Die Verwendung von „räumlicher“ statt „sozialer“ Distanzierung unterstützt die Illusion, man könne Menschen mittels sozialer Medien nah bleiben. Eine Sprachanalyse zu social distancing.
Les metàfores de guerra durant la Covid-19: un recurs enverinat (7 April 2020, Pensem)
L'ús de llenguatge bel·licita per gestionar la crisi empeny les societats democràtiques envers l'autoritarisme. En comptes de parlar d'un «enemic» que ens ataca, es pot entendre el virus com un procés, semblant a un riu.
Corona, Lockdowns, and civil liberties: why participation and debate is important (20 March 2020, Discover Society)
“As a linguist, for instance, I’m interested in the language used in the current discourse. The corona crisis is interesting in this respect, not just because previously uncommon phrases have entered our daily vocabulary basically overnight (“social distancing”, “self-isolation”, “flatten the curve”), but also with respect to the metaphors used to talk about the crisis. The coronavirus has so far mainly been framed in terms of warfare metaphors.”
Eine Metapher, sie zu knechten (23 October 2018, Der Freitag)
Die Benutzung der Metapher “Hausaufgaben machen” suggeriert ungleiche Machtverhältnisse und ersetzt Debatte durch moralische Verpflichtung. So fördert sie den Populismus.
Frames and narratives of translation and of migration in Europe
This project seeks to advance research on the role of translation as a key mechanism of migration control and on the study of cross-linguistically existent discourse patterns. The main research objectives are
- to identify frames of migration and of translation in contact zones of migration in Spain and Germany, and to investigate whether particular frames can be observed cross-linguistically, which would imply the existence of cross-nationally identifiable discourse patterns or narratives on migration
- to analyse how these frames shape narratives of migration and of translation that are observable in both individual agents working in contact zones of migration and in organisational processes of translation in those zones
While extensive scholarly work exists on how immigration is framed in the media, it is with the recent rise of populism in Europe that the language employed by politicians and echoed in the media is increasingly becoming a pan-European topic of both interest and concern. Conservative parties increasingly adopt extreme right-wing terminology, thus shifting the limits of acceptability further and further towards a xenophobic consensus. Discursive means of manipulation or presenting subjective opinion as objective truths have become frequent strategies.
While the media play a key role in shaping the discourse on immigration and determining which frames are used and perpetuated, much work remains to be done to investigate how particular frames are introduced and established, and especially how this shapes a cross-linguistic, pan-European discourse. Recent calls to fund research within EU Horizon 2020 programme have placed emphasis on the discourse around the concept of migration and its socio-economic effects on host societies, such as distribution and impact of migration, migrant integration and education, or mobility patterns and security risks, among others. However, the centrality of language, and as a result of translation as an act of mediation that allows migrants to navigate their environment and fully participate in everyday life has been ignored. These approaches to the study of migration and its relationship to language are central to understanding migration processes within the European Union from a geopolitical perspective.
The specific objectives to be addressed by this project are:
- to identify through quantitative and contrastive data analysis the most recurrent frames on migration and translation to examine the connection between these two concepts
- to conduct a qualitative analysis of author stance and positioning towards migration in those recurrent frames
- to identify, through ethnographic methods of data collection and qualitative content analysis, public narratives of migration and of translation in the three areas mentioned above, and to evaluate the extent to which frames identified in RO2 shape such narratives
- to establish a connection between narratives of migration and of translation, and evaluate the extent to which such narratives contribute to the use of acts of translation as key strategic tools for control of migration
The Frames and Narratives of Translation and of Migration in Europe (FANTAME) research project is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (PID2019-107971GA-I00, 2020−2024).
This project is further funded by a postdoctoral grant from Pompeu Fabra University's inter- and trans-disciplinary Planetary Wellbeing initiative.
Editorial Intervention in Translation
When we talk about phenomena of translated language, we usually equate translated language with the language we find in translated books, magazines, newspapers or other such published translations. What we often forget is that in the production of translated documents, there are many intermediate stages such as revision, editing or proofreading where the language in the text is changed, sometimes significantly. While some phenomena like sentence splitting are caused by both translators and editors alike (see my article in Applied Linguistics), I also show in this book chapter that translators and editors are linguistic actors that are guided by noticeably different purposes. On the one hand, they both make extensive changes to nominalisations (see my article in The Translator), which I have shown in this article published in Perspectives to happen especially when the nominalisation is postmodified, for instance by genitive attributes. On the other hand, editors also eliminate passive constructions from translations, especially when the verb is in the past tense (article published in Across Languages and Cultures). With respect to a proposed “mediation effect”, it seems that translating and editing are rather different activities. Thus, I argue for a greater inclusion of unedited texts in translation corpora (see my article published in Target).
This research was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitivity through my participation in the MODEVIGTRAD project (FFI2014-57313-P, 2016−2018).
Translation as a site of language contact can play a role in language change. I'm interested in the effects that the contact of two languages both in the mind of the translator and in that of the reader can have on each other. In my PhD project, I have concentrated on the analysis of parataxis and hypotaxis in English−German translation, which has found some evidence for a diachronic decrease of hypotactic constructions in causal (article published in Languages in Contrast) and concessive clauses (article published in Text & Talk) in translated language, although this trend is not corroborated in non-translated language. As I report in those articles, there does seem to be a trend towards a greater use of sentence-initial concessive conjunctions in German business articles, which may well have been affected by language contact in translation.