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Book: Analyzing the Media

Chapter: Popular Science Articles in Broadsheet Newspapers, Consumer Magazines, and Specialized Magazines: Engagement Resources from a Translation Perspective

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.32949


Given the central role played by science in our daily life and the variety of science-related issues that are currently translated into other languages, popular science in and for mass media is an area of significant importance for research on linguistic aspects and translation. Yet, it is still largely underexplored in both Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Translation Studies (TS), with few exceptions (e.g., Minelli de Oliveira & Pagano 2006; Liao 2011, 2013; Kranich et al. 2012; Olohan 2016). This paper sets out to offer a contribution to the analysis of translation of popular science writing in the media from the perspective of SFL, working with the language pair English-Italian. Although firmly rooted in SFL, and TS, it also draws on journalism, media studies and science communication.

Specific focus is on the popular science feature article translated from broadsheet newspapers, consumer magazines and specialized science magazines. In feature articles, the journalist/writer has some freedom to experiment with style and introduce his/her own voice. Hardly from being a purely objective kind of register, the feature article often embodies subjectivity intruding into the text. Moreover, as rhetoric of science scholar Tinker Perrault points out, not only do popular science articles present facts, ‘the truth’, but they also give readers information in such a way that lets them take a critical stance, inviting them “to engage with science-related issues not as spectators but as members of civil society” (Tinker Perrault 2013: 138). In other words, this seems in line with the cultural process of “democratization of knowledge” which has been taking place in the UK and the US (Kranich et al. 2012: 332). What happens when such issues cross cultural and linguistic borders through a process of interlingual transfer?

The paper aims at exploring the issue of subjectivity in popular science texts in the written media as conveyed through evaluative language choices and resources which “position the speaker/writer with respect to the value position being advanced and with respect to potential responses to that value position” (Martin & White 2005: 36). Special focus is thus on the translation of interpersonal meanings (Halliday 1994; Halliday & Matthiessen 2014) realized through the APPRAISAL SYSTEMS, and especially through the attendant resource of Engagement (Martin & White 2005), which, as Munday (2015: 409) contends, has so far been relatively overlooked in TS, apart from a small number of studies (Vandepitte et al. 2011; Munday 2012, 2015; Quian 2012).

The paper discusses the results of a product-oriented analysis of a corpus of articles included in the ‘Science’/‘Technology’ sections of the Italian consumer magazine, Internazionale, translated from a wide range of English sources, i.e., broadsheet newspapers, consumer magazines and specialized magazines, in print and online, from both the UK and US. Analysis is centred on ‘evaluation shifts’ occurring when an English Source Text (ST) is rendered into an Italian Target Text (TT). The findings show that, in general, English STs tend to be more addressee-oriented, by leaving more room for alternative views, whereas Italian TTs tend to reduce some explicit indicators of Engagement (either through shifts towards a higher degree of certainty or omissions).

The goal of the paper is to seek (1) to establish whether translation choices at the level of Engagement in a TT seem to be linked to the different degree of popularization in different STs and (2) to see to what degree shifts (that in same cases might even be linked to the technical constraints of the medium) seem to reflect the ideological positioning of the translator/editor and may influence the final perception of the reader.

Chapter Contributors

  • Marina Manfredi ( - mmanfredi) 'University of Bologna'