Translation in cross-cultural management

A matter of voice

Authored by: Chris Steyaert , Maddy Janssens

The Routledge Companion to Cross-Cultural Management

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415858687
eBook ISBN: 9780203798706
Adobe ISBN: 9781135105709


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The biblical story of Babel tells the story of why the human race was scattered over the face of the earth, divided, dislocated, and incapable of communicating; we have been trying to reconnect ever since. In the movie Babel (by the director Alejandro González Iñárritu and the screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga), there are several stories interwoven that take place in various locations, namely Morocco, Tokyo, and the US–Mexico border, reflecting the filmic challenge of how to make connections out of apparent discontinuities and dislocations (Scott, 2006). In this multilingual movie – with its use of Spanish, Berber, sign language, and English – there is also a need for translation. At a certain point, Susan (played by Cate Blanchett), on “desultory vacation” (Scott, 2006) in Morocco, trying to repair her marriage with her husband Richard (played by Brad Pitt) after the death of their infant son, is shot in the neck by a bullet, fired from a passing bus. Consternated, Richard tries to find help for his wife and he shouts the word “help” to a passing motorist, who, alarmed, speeds off. Translation can indeed (help to) save one’s life. According to Cronin (2013: 493), the “inability to translate foregrounds a cultural blindness on the parts of the traveler who finds he is not so much an empowered citizen of the world as the unwilling denizen of a place.” If the business of the translator is, as Cronin argues, to understand what people actually say in a particular location and time and to bring this knowledge to another location (the target language), then “what the failure to translate does is to reinstate the importance of a particular kind of time in overly spatialized and visualized models of the global” (pp. 493–494). Without translation, the cosmopolitan (or the global traveler) does not get connected; with translation, the global gets in touch with the intensity and ephemerality of local lives.

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