Journalistic Corpora in Teaching Specialized Translation

A woman stands in the middle of a larger-than-life neural net. Photo credit Mahdis Mousavi

By Leigha Smith, MA student, Concordia University

As technology evolves, so evolves the field of translation. Debates about the utility of machine-assisted translation have proliferated since its introduction, and newer developments in AI training are spawning new discussions on the role technology plays (or can play, or perhaps should play) in the act of translation.

Inevitably, this raises questions in the classroom: To what extent should instructors emphasize or de-emphasize technology in translator training? In their latest article, "Le corpus journalistique dans l’enseignement de la traduction économique et financière" (forthcoming in TTR), Pier-Pascale Boulanger and Chantal Gagnon propose the use of journalistic corpora as one way to incorporate technology into translator instruction, while emphasizing critical thinking—a particularly salient need given recent declines in writing proficiency among undergraduates in Quebec (Boivin, Chabot and Debeurme, 2022; Leduc and Morasse, 2021). 
Some debate around the use of technology in translation results from the perception that technology—from translation memories to AI writing aids such as ChatGPT—degrade skills such as critical thinking and writing ability. New translators can at times rely too heavily on these tools as they learn the trade (Daems, 2016; Depraetere, 2010). Developing skills such as critical thinking, self-reflexivity, and contextual analysis are great ways to develop a sense of the human translator's role in an automated world.
To demonstrate these points, Boulanger and Gagnon illustrate the pedagogical use of journalistic corpora in the specialized field of financial translation. Studies have argued that journalistic corpora are rich pedagogical resources especially for specialized areas of translation.
The authors note that a bilingual corpus of financial and economic news offers ample opportunity for critical analysis of power relations within source texts. Teaching students to apply critical discourse analysis to newspaper articles identifies the power relations at work within the financial sphere, as well as how those relations are reproduced in newspaper articles. The authors note three main areas where this reproduction can be identified: lexicon and vocabulary, agency, and voice. 
Critical reading can also reveal bias reversal in financial news, wherein—unlike in news at large—financial news is more likely to contain positive bias to the point of obscuring realistic assessment of risk. Financial news also exemplifies dedicated use of euphemisms and shifts in terminology; corpora can help students identify the discursive replacement of terms like predatory loans in favour of language such as subprime loans. Importantly, power relations are also reproduced in the sources journalists draw from in the reporting of their stories: Financial institutions are frequently privileged as sources in the reporting of economic news. 
The wide-reaching effects of source bias is a critical lesson for translators-in-training. Journalism—like all writing; like translation—has substantial social and cultural impact. As noted by the authors, the prioritization of financial institutions' perspectives in journalistic coverage allows neoliberal ideology to flourish and may normalize notions of consumer resilience and adaptability in the face of precarity, instead of suggesting any responsibility to be found among financial institutions themselves. In drawing students' attention to recurring voices and points of view, instructors can develop key contextual analysis skills among prospective translators—skills machines may never develop.
Boulanger and Gagnon neither valorize nor malign technology's role in translation. Regardless of a person's feelings about machine-assisted translation, its existence cannot be ignored. Apart from the usefulness of critical analysis discourse for students of translation, making use of corpora in teaching helps prospective translators to understand their roles as cultural actors, as social agents in their own right. Translators contribute to culture and society in ways that extend beyond the mere act of translation. This, too, seems a worthwhile message to teach.

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