From the Incas to the Digital Age: New Media, New Narratives and the Translator’s Role - Rising Star Winner
By: Laura Linares
27 February 2018
As part of the GALA Rising Star 2018 Scholarship Contest, students across the world were asked to answer this question: "What impact does new media (such as video localization, eLearning, etc.) have on translation tasks and methods?" Participants from more than 30 academic programs submitted responses. The winners received a free registration to the GALA Boston conference and a travel stipend.
From the Incas to the Digital Age: New Media, New Narratives and the Translator’s Role
That we live in an age of digital revolution is clear. The ubiquity of software, tools and apps has become a given in our day to day tasks and has sparkled many discussions on the deep impact that the rapidly changing ecosystem we live in to has in both our individual lives and the construction of our societies. In the translation world, discussions have traditionally developed within two main areas: on the one hand, the impact of computer-assisted tools and automated translation in the tasks of the translator and their effect on the priorities established in the translation and localisation industries, exemplified, among other things, in the increasing demand for post-editing services or in the constant struggle between translators and project managers over the limits of fuzzy translation matches. On the other hand, and linked to the ever-increasing amount of content requiring translation, new technological possibilities for collaborative distance work and a new conceptualization of labour and remuneration brought about by late capitalism, an increase in crowdsourcing alternatives that allow for the fast translation of vast quantities of text has both given new possibilities and further destabilised a profession that has traditionally been haunted by low pay rates and invisibility.
The implications of these changes for translators’ tasks and lives are far-reaching and profound, and thus essential to examine, discuss and critically assess. However, as important as these areas are for the profession, our emphasis on the technological aspects of the work of translators are blinding us to an area that is increasingly becoming a subject of special interest in other circles, academic and not, and that has the potential to dramatically shift our understanding of the translator’s role in society much further: the fundamental effect that the use of new technologies and new media is having in the way we construct narratives and, thus our own identities and our view of the world. Contrary to what our focus on the technical aspects of the technological revolution suggests, increasingly widespread ideas in the areas of content marketing and the building of a brand identity through stories, the construction of narratives in the press (including the prevalent idea of fake news in recent times) or the development of personal narratives on social media, it seems that the relevance of storytelling is far from being old-fashioned or relegated to literary or creative arenas.
New Media, New Rules: The Impact of Technology in the Construction and Distribution of Narratives
Narratives are thus, just like technology, pervasive in our modern societies, and it is through them that we create our view of the world and of each other. Most importantly, they not only enter our lives at the same time as technology or using technological advances as a vessel, but they are profoundly and intimately shaped by the medium in which they are conveyed. In the same way that it is easy to see today how pen and paper can be considered one of the most important technological disruptions in human development, digital media are today engaging in a transformation of yet unknown potential for the development of our ideas. When Eadweard Muybridge created his famous film The Horse in Motion (Silent Film House 2011), a 15 second moving image of a man riding a horse, the very technical prowess of creating that movement was justification enough for the effort of making the movie. Today, not only have filmic narratives developed immensely, but they have also had a huge impact on other areas of creation –a notable example being the Nouveau Roman movement in the 1950s–, and on new ways of understanding time, space and movement. In the same manner, we are at a changing moment in history in which technical dexterity, while still awe-inspiring, is becoming more widely assimilated, giving us space to think about the stories we want to share through the media that are now available to us. No marketing company would recommend to a client to simply 'use Twitter', but rather to create a plan that uses the characteristics of the medium to construct the narrative of their brand, their identity.
In recent weeks, Manny Medrano, a Harvard undergraduate student minoring in Archaeology, has been in the news for his contribution to the deciphering of traditional 'Quipus', a series of knotted strings used by the Incas to encode different types of complex information which were, to this day, completely unreadable. Communication is coded in these ancient tools in the form of colours and knots: Medrano argues that decoding them could mean a transformation of our understanding of language (and, I would argue, storytelling), as not 'a linear construction that is either spoken or written down [but] [...] something that can be felt, something that can be touched, and something that can be handled' (Davis Young 2017). Just like this newly deciphered 'old medium', new media challenge what we think about our modes of communication and the stories we can tell through them, as it is exemplified in the interactive documentary 'The Quipu Project', an innovative creative endeavour that uses the possibilities of new digital media to give voice to the indigenous Peruvians who were sterilized in the 1990s under the Fujimori regime (The Quipu Project 2017). The documentary, which is hosted in an interactive website, offers the visitor the possibility of clicking on Quipu knots in order to hear different stories, thus recovering the idea of the traditional Incan mode of communication while emphasizing the link between the physical knots in the strings and the interconnectedness of the virtual knots that we constantly tie in our interactions over the web. Furthermore, 'The Quipu Project' embraces another essential opportunity offered by new media, which is the participatory nature of projects. Not only are the victims of the sterilization programme encouraged to participate, but website users also have the opportunity to record their own messages in response to the authors. Two main common characteristics jump out when new media, from new experiments in interactive documentary and film creation to e-learning platforms or social media: their interactive and participatory nature, and their propensity to engage people from different cultures, in different languages.
Rounding the Circle: La Malinche, a Mestizo World and the Translator's New Role in Society
When mentioning indigenous tools and experiences, is perhaps inevitable for the translator to think of La Malinche, famously described as interpreter and advisor to Hernán Cortés and at times used to exemplify the hybrid, mestizo identity and in-betweenness of translators, which has traditionally been associated with mistrust and treason and thus relegated to a secondary, invisible position, further embedded into our minds through concepts such as traduttore, traditore or the belles infidèles. Translators are traitors because they dare to modify originals, create new meanings and give them new life, which is a problematic idea for our traditional conception of the original text and author as hierarchically superior to the translation. This idea, however, does not stand up to modern times and the developments in new media, in which ideas of participatory or even anonymous authorship are increasingly commonplace, and in which multicultural collaboration is more a given than a surprise, making multilingual conversation a constant feature of our day to day lives. Following from the example used in the previous section, 'The Quipu Project' is not only an innovative way of looking at documentary narrative, but is also a great example of the formation of new global connections and the key role of translators in their development by giving access to texts in English, Spanish and Quechua and enabling people to establish fruitful discussions in these three languages across time and space, many of which have to be mediated through the participation of translators.
The innovative possibilities of collaboration through new media are already challenging our idea of 'original texts', and contributing to an ever-increasing mestizo world, in which nobody is better equipped than the translator, as an expert in cultural differences and textual practices, to navigate the rapid developments of new digital and multicultural narratives and promote the sharing of ideas through linguistic and cultural mediation. Traditionally relegated to a subaltern position and to invisibility in the face of strict, finalised originals, the status of translators and the tasks related to their profession could radically change in the near future to a much more prominent role in developing new understandings of the society we live in. Through consultancy work on linguistic and cultural aspects of globalisation, sharing of expertise on the convergence of traditional textual practices and new technologies and reflection on new ways of telling stories through new media, translators could provide with deep insight on how to live in an increasingly hybrid world. Indeed, we first need to master the new tools and vocabularies that the technological revolution is providing us with, just like we did with pen and paper, film and light. But the stories we must tell go beyond a moving horse, and they are told in more than one language.
Laura Linares is a PhD candidate in Translation Studies at University College Cork and one of two winners in the GALA Rising Star 2018 Scholarship Contest.
- Davis Young, Katherine (2017, December 14). The College Student Who Decoded the Data Hidden in Inca Knots [Blog post]. Retrieved January 8, 2018, from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/khipus-inca-empire-harvard-univers....
- Quipu Project. (2017). Retrieved January 8, 2018, from https://interactive.quipu-project.com/#/en/quipu/intro
- Silent Film House. [silentfilmhouse]. (2011, March 23). Race Horse First Film Ever 1878 Eadweard Muybridge [Video File]. Retrieved January 8, 2018, from https://youtu.be/IEqccPhsqgA