Susan M. DiGiacomo, Barcelona, Catalonia
"It's the writing that defeats you": steps toward social science genre recognition
Why does translating or editing social science texts seem to inspire fear and loathing in many language professionals? At last year’s METM15 Karen Shashok’s presentation “How I learned to stop worrying and love social science discourse” revealed what appears to be something more widespread than just an idiosyncratic personal reaction to social science writing. Over the years I have detected similar attitudes in translator/author’s editor responses to these texts that range from looks of blank incomprehension to explicit judgments about writing deemed unnecessarily “complex”, excessively “academic”, or simply “bad”. Value judgments like this can interfere with our ability to work effectively with authors.
This presentation explores the possible sources of these views. I begin by suggesting that part of the problem may be overexposure to a single kind of writing: biomedicine and the experimental sciences, for which there is a very large translation and author’s editing market. The IMRAD research article format, however, is not generalizable to all forms of knowledge, and this has further implications for authorial voice and style. I use ethnographic writing to show how texts and the author’s relationship to them are constructed in the social sciences because anthropology is my field, and because ethnographic writing, of all the social science genres, is probably the one that contrasts most sharply with the biological and experimental sciences. Text examples from published work in English will be used to illustrate aspects of ethnographic writing that seem to prove especially challenging for translators and author’s editors.
The audience will be invited to participate, confirming or rejecting my preliminary analysis, and offering alternative interpretations as a first step toward approaching social science writing from a position of greater understanding and less anxiety.
Susan M. DiGiacomo is professor of anthropology at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Catalonia, and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA. In addition to several years working as a biomedical translator, she has more than 25 years' experience as a translator and author’s editor of anthropology from Catalan and Spanish to English and English to Catalan, and offers a departmental publication support service for her colleagues at URV that includes critical review of manuscripts, editorial assistance and translation.