Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having to always translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 81).
When people talk about translation broadly, they may reference the seemingly simple act of transforming information from one language to another. Anyone with experience using any digital translation tool in any context might describe the simplicity with which a word, term, or phrase residents inputted in one language to be automatically transformed into another language through often-invisible algorithms grounded in grammar-based databases. While the emergence of new technologies continues to improve the ease with which language is adapted, for many communities of color, the process and practice of translation is anything but automatic or neutral. As Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) described in "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," communities of color (for Anzaldúa, Chicanx communities specifically), within and beyond the United States, are pushed to translate their fluid, emergent, and constantly changing linguistic and cultural practices to fit within rigid categories such as those imposed by standardized American English. Yet, as the 2020 Special Committee on Composing a CCCC Statement of Anti-Black Racism and Black Linguistic Justice, Or, Why We Cain’t Breathe! explains in their description of anti-Black linguistic racism, "Socially constructed terms like academic language and standard English are rooted in white supremacy, whiteness, and anti-Blackness and contribute to anti-Black policies (e.g., English only) that are codified and enacted to privilege white linguistic and cultural norms while deeming Black Language inferior" (Baker-Bell et al. 2020). Thus, for many communities of color, translation is not a neutral process of language adaptation, but is instead an ongoing, racialized, and rhetorical act that requires a navigation of material, visual, alphabetic, and embodied relationships with people, languages, communities, histories, and cultures. As we demonstrate in this webtext, translation is a multimodal activity that encompasses important rhetorical practices that should be further acknowledged, recognized, and centralized in both writing studies and technical communication.
Translation, both in written form and through verbal interpretation, requires constantly shifting and multi-layered cultural–rhetorical processes that encompass multimodal elements such as embodied movements, sounds, and digital composing. In her study of the interactions between visual and verbal modalities in student translation practices, Anne Ketola (2015) highlighted the value of visualization in translation, explaining that visuals are "capable of amplifying, specifying and even annulling verbal information" (p. 13). Despite the rich connections across translation and visualization, research on the varying uses of visualizations in translation is still rather limited, "focusing mainly on providing criteria for choosing appropriate images in technical and scientific texts (Tercedor-Sánchez & Abadía-Molina, 2005) or technically oriented terminological databases (Prieto Velasco, 2009, 2012)" (Ketola, 2015, p. 14).
Overall, research across fields and perspectives, including technical communication (e.g., Batova & Clark, 2015; Sun, 2012), rhetoric and writing studies (e.g., Barton & Lee, 2013; Berry, Hawisher, & Selfe, 2012; Bloom-Pojar, 2018), and translation studies (e.g., Byrne, 2006; Ketola, 2015) acknowledges that language is fluid and constantly changing, and that successful translations are dependent on the contexts and cultures in which they are developed and used. Therefore, there is not a single English or a single Spanish. Instead, multiple Spanishes and Englishes are constantly being developed, as individuals navigate always fluid, emergent, and changing modes of communication (Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015). In writing studies specifically, scholars have been advocating for the value of language diversity for decades, pointing to the important rhetorical practices that "students from margins" (Smitherman & Villanueva, 2003) engage in as they write beyond standardized language systems to communicate their ideas (Perryman-Clark, Kirkland, & Jackson, 2014). This work points writing studies researchers and teachers to both acknowledge the fluidity of language and to recognize the ideological and material impact that linguistically and ethnically diverse communities experience in standardized English-dominant systems.
In the United States, translation (i.e., the written transformation of information from a source language to a target language) and interpretation (i.e., the verbal transformation of information from a source language to a target language) have been and continue to be used as gatekeeping mechanisms for immigrant communities, both within and beyond education systems (Flores & García, 2017). For example, to enroll in school, attain medical or legal assistance, or complete any government-sanctioned activity like getting a driver's license or ID, many immigrant community members in the United States have to translate and certify a wide range of documents from their home languages to standardized American English, relying on professional translators to facilitate and certify this process to fit within constrained linguistic categories and cultural ideologies. On several levels, translation, in these cases, is not only a written process, but is instead a multi-layered activity that requires the transformation of alphabetic and visual text across standardized language systems like Spanish and English, linguistic and cultural navigation, as well as material and physical resources. All of these activities, we argue, encompass visual elements that can be further understood through visual methods and methodologies.
Visualization, writ large, has always been embedded into translation, as translators expand beyond the constraints of alphabetic language to transform meaning for culturally and linguistically diverse audiences across contexts. Translation processes encompass movement across various activities, many of which involve visualization through processes like document design and formatting. For example, as described by Laura Gonzales (2018), when professional translators receive a new written translation request, many first do an initial reading to gauge the depth and complexity of the translation and to provide a quote for the client based on this initial assessment. Then, translators conduct external research related to the topic of the translation (e.g., legal, scientific, technical topics). They will then begin to transform the language of the text, design the visual aspects of the text (font, layout, images), format text, edit the content, proofread the text for errors in design, language transformation, and formatting, then collaborate to finalize the text by allowing other translators to read and provide feedback on the translation. Through each of these stages, translators engage in visual methods and practices while also making it possible for community members to become visible in English-language databases at government agencies, educational institutions, and other contexts.
Historically, translation has been used by immigrant communities to increase and support representation and access to information in languages other than standardized American English. In this webtext, we seek to contribute to translators' efforts for visibility specifically by engaging in visual methods and methodologies to document the various activities and intellectual practices that translators exhibit in their everyday work. Through a longitudinal study that we conducted with translators and interpreters in the Language Services Department at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, a small business located within a broader non-profit organization serving Latinx communities in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we explore how visualization is embedded in translation while also developing practices for visualizing translation as a complex cultural–rhetorical practice. As we demonstrate, translators negotiate a wide range of technical, cultural, and intellectual resources to complete their work, resources that we argue should be further highlighted in discussions about visualization within the fields of writing studies and technical communication.
Para entender más concretamente los procesos de la traducción, y para visualizar la traducción en su propio contexto, nosotras colaboramos con el Departamento de Servicios de Lenguaje en el Centro Hispano del Oeste de Michigan. El Centro Hispano del Oeste de Michigan es una organización sin fin de lucro ubicada en la ciudad de Grand Rapids, Michigan. Las metas de esta organización incluyen la provisión de acceso, educación, y recursos para la comunidad Latinx en y fuera del Oeste de Michigan.
El Centro Hispano es una organización sin fin de lucro, pero el Departamento de Servicios de Lenguaje, cual está ubicado dentro del Centro Hispano, es un negocio de traducción e interpretación que cobra por sus servicios mientras provee accesibilidad lingüística a la comunidad Latinx. Todo ingreso adquirido por el Departamento de Servicios de Lenguaje es reinvertido en el Centro Hispano. En esta manera, el Departamento de Servicios de Lenguaje apoya a los programas del Centro Hispano. El Departamento de Servicios de Lenguaje en El Centro Hispano del Oeste de Michigan se maneja bajo las mismas restricciones de una organización sin fin de lucro mientras también cobra y maneja los fondos adquiridos por medio de sus servicios.
El Departamento de Servicios de Lenguaje en El Centro Hispano del Oeste de Michigan tiene 50 empleados bilingues (Espanol-Ingles) quienes trabajan como traductores e intérpretes en su comunidad, facilitando la comunicación entre miembros de la comunidad quienes hablan el Español y los proveedores de servicio quienes se comunican en Inglés. Los intérpretes y traductores del Departamento de Lenguajes facilitan la comunicación entre miembros de su comunidad y más de 50 organizaciones del gobierno y de servicios locales en la ciudad de Grand Rapids (por ejemplo, el departamento de policía, Servicios de Protección Para Menores, negocios de tecnologia, museos locales, e otras organizaciones sin fin de lucro). En esta investigación, nosotras trabajamos principalmente con traductores en el departamento quienes están a cargo de completar traducciones técnicas (por ejemplo, actas de nacimiento, datos médicos, sitios web).
To better understand translation processes and to visualize translation in action, we partnered with the Language Services Department at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan is a non-profit organization located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The purpose of this organization is to provide access, education, and resources to the Latinx community in West Michigan and beyond.
While the Hispanic Center has been serving its community in Grand Rapids for over 40 years, as this promotional video illustrates, the organization actually began as a small office seeking to provide translation and interpretation services to Spanish-speaking community members who immigrated to the Midwest. As it is documented through scholars and activists who write about struggles for Civil Rights for Latinx communities during and after the Chicano Movement (Vigil, 1999), many community organizations and initiatives for Latinx rights and representations, particularly in the US Midwest, viewed translation as a critical component to providing access and justice in the community. The Hispanic Center, and the Language Services Department specifically, understood the importance of translation as a critical component in the fight for equity and inclusion.
Although the Hispanic Center as a whole is a non-profit organization, the Language Services Department located inside the Hispanic Center is a for-profit translation and interpretation business aiming to provide language accessibility to the Latinx community. All of the revenue earned in the Language Services Department is re-invested in the Hispanic Center, fueling various programs for the larger organization. The Language Services Department at the Hispanic Center works under the same institutional constraints as a non-profit organization while simultaneously charging a small fee for services that is then re-invested into the community. In this way, the Language Services Department works as a support system for the broader organization and for the local community as a whole.
At the time of our study, the Language Services Department at the Hispanic Center employed 50 bilingual (Spanish-English) translators and interpreters who facilitated communication between Spanish-speaking community members and over 50 local service and government organizations in the City of Grand Rapids (e.g., the local police department, Child Protective Services, technology businesses, local museums, other non-profit organizations). For the purposes of this study, we worked primarily with in-house translators who are in charge of completing written translations of technical documents (e.g., birth certificates, medical records, websites), documenting translation activities and creating visualizations of this work in collaboration with our participants.
In her book Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us About Digital Writing and Rhetoric, Gonzales (2018) studied the translation processes of multilingual communicators at two different research sites, narrowing and focusing on moments when her research participants would pause to make decisions during their translation processes. Instead of viewing these pauses as empty space, she identified them as "translation moments," or instances in time when multilingual communicators and translators pause their communication to make a rhetorical decision about how to transform information from a source language (e.g., English) to a target language (e.g., Spanish). As Gonzales explained:
Translation moments do not reference the entire process of translation. Instead, translation moments are those instances when we pause to ask, Should I use this word or that word? What word or phrase would be most appropriate in this context, for this audience? Should I use a word at all, or would a picture be more useful? Signaled by a pause, translation moments are instances of rhetorical action embedded in the process of language transformation. (p. 2)
Through this analysis of translation moments, Gonzales argued that the process of language transformation is culturally situated, embodied, and creative, and often requires that multilingual communicators create different types of visualizations to make information accessible to various communities.
In a special issue about data visualization in writing studies, we use this webtext to both make connections between translation and data visualization and to argue that as our fields continue developing methodologies for and orientations to linking writing with visualization, we should take time to honor the communities and spaces for whom visual and alphabetic communication have always been inherently connected. Working with the same team of translators that Gonzales (2018) collaborated with in the creation of her book, we use translation moments as a framework of analysis to understand the rhetorical nature of translation and take a deeper dive into the role that visualizations play in translation work. Specifically, we use visual methods to illustrate the multi-layered, multimodal aspects of translation while also making a broader argument about the importance of humanizing visualization methods and methodologies in writing studies. As we demonstrate, when creating visualizations (about translation and about other data more broadly), asking what is in the empty spaces, what is not visible, and what might be happening inside the computational processes and the connected reality around the edges of the computer screen can identify similar pauses, or moments of translation, where designers, writers, and communicators have space to index, recognize, and visualize cultural knowledge. We seek to visualize (and help the fields of writing studies and technical communication to visualize) the complexities of translation and the stories embedded within this process.
Gonzales (2018) first observed and recorded (through video footage, screen recordings, and field notes) translation activities taking place in a Language Services office during the course of 3 years. To develop the coding strategies depicted in Table 1 we worked together to code 2,871 translation moments experienced by participants in the Language Services Department. During these translation moments, translators did not just practice one of the eight strategies listed in Table 1. Instead, translators layered strategies rhetorically, combining practices like storytelling with gesturing strategies in order to arrive at an effective translation. Overall, translators used a total of 5,734 strategies during their 2,871 translation moments, meaning that over 50% of translation moments encompassed the use of more than one translation strategy.
|Use of Digital Translation Tools||Digital translation tools used by participants in this project include Google Translate, Linguee, a Spanish–English dictionary, and WordReference, a bilingual synonym finder.|
|Deconstructing||Deconstruction strategies include word conjugation or adaptation, when participants take an initial word and adapt it to meet the context of a single sentence or section in the translation.|
|Gesturing||Gesturing strategies include the "gesticulations on the y" (McNeill, 1992) made by participants as they discuss a word or phrase during a translation moment.|
|Reading Aloud||Reading aloud is used by participants when they are testing if their translation "makes sense" in the context of an entire document. Participants frequently read their translations aloud several times to ensure accuracy.|
|Negotiating||Negotiating strategies were often used in conjunction with the use of digital translation tools. Participants negotiated when they were deciding between possible options for translating a single word.|
|Storytelling||Storytelling took place when participants would have a conversation about how to translate a specific word or phrase. In these instances, participants would tell stories about how they have heard or used a word or phrase in the past.|
|Repeating||Often, participants would repeat a word or phrase several times during a translation moment. Through this repetition, participants cued their own indexed cultural knowledge, deciding which word "sounded right" based on the ways in which they have heard that word used in previous contexts.|
|Sketching||Sketching strategies were used when participants tried to make sense of a word by drawing a figure or object. These strategies were often used when participants tried to explain a concept to another translator in order to come to a common understanding.|
We use Gonzales's (2018) translation moments framework to identify a range of integrated rhetorical strategies that fall under visualization—as socially situated processes, as movements between modes of interpretation, as representations of data, as methodological heuristics, and as data products.
As we traced translation activities for the purposes of this project, we recognized that these visualization activities are embedded within a broader network of relationships, and that the relationships between translators and their communities greatly influences the strategies and care with which translation work is completed. Observing as translators drew on their own experiences to transform information for their community, we wanted to develop a way of visualizing not only the strategies that translators use in their work, but also the relationships that these strategies have to broader histories and experiences. Furthermore, we wanted to recognize our own relationships to this translation space, both as researchers and as new members of a broader community. Thus, in the sections that follow, we elaborate on the rhetorical strategies that translators engaged in during translation moments, emphasizing how visualization was embedded both in the process of translation and in the documentation and analysis of these activities.