Intersemiotic Translation and Cultural Literacy

Intersemiotic translation provides an interactive, participative platform with the potential to engage individuals and communities in connecting with cultures different from their own. This special interest group proposes to chronicle and reflect on this process of collaborative translation, chart its impact in communities or other public settings, and research the socio-cognitive mechanisms at work. In addition to researching its theoretical and aesthetic rationale, we are interested in how intersemiotic translation might function to promote cultural literacy.

 What is Intersemiotic Translation? 

The act of translating from one language to another involves a political, culturally embedded process that can impact both the originating and the receiving culture. In literary translation, a text is translated into another text using purely verbal means. This process is considered “intra-semiotic” as it remains in the verbal domain within the system of signs and meaning we call language. In contrast, an intersemiotic translation carries a source text (or artefact) across sign systems and typically creates connections between different cultures and media. While in literary translation the onus tends to lie principally on the translator to convey the sense of the source artefact, intersemiotic translation involves a creative step in which the translator (artist or performer) offers its embodiment in a different medium. This process is facilitated by perceiving and experiencing non-verbal media through visual, auditory and other sensory channels, for example through dance or sculpture. Instead of focusing on the translation of sense or meaning, the translator effectively plays the role of mediator in an experiential process that allows the recipient (viewer, listener, reader or participant) to re-create the sense (or semios) of the source artefact for him or herself. This holistic approach recognizes that there are multiple possible versions of both source and target texts and this can help mitigate the biases and preconceptions a static, intra-semiotic translation can sometimes introduce.

Within this overall framework, we seek to answer a number of research questions:

  1. What essential bodies of knowledge can be applied to the process of understanding intersemiotic practice?
  2. What research methodology should be applied to the analysis of the relationship between the artist, the creative intersemiotic process and the viewer or ‘spectactor’ in the context of broader cultural forces?
  3. To what extent is the process of intersemiotic artefact production readable? To what extent can this practice be understood in terms of the practitioner’s subjective account?
  4. How does growing cultural fragmentation (social, digital, ethnic) contribute to blurring the borders between aesthetically-driven notions of product and process, spectator and practitioner? To what extent is the viewer or audience a co-creator in this process?
  5. How does an intersemiotically-translated artefact differ from one delivered within the same sign system as its source? To what extent can its position in time and space be said to be fixed or fluid?
  6. What role can intersemiotic translation practice play in education and in helping individuals and fragmented communities provide continuity or come to terms with the past? How can intersemiotic translation contribute to developing a renewed sense of self and/or place?
  7. To what extent can theories of knowledge and society be combined with theories of mind and neurological evidence to better understand the embodied process of intersemiotic translation?