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Strategies and Outcomes in Translating Industrial Relations

Abstract

Drawing on the examination of a national-specific industrial relations practice – Italy’s ammortizzatori sociali – this paper intends to provide an analysis of the strategies put in place by translators at the European Union to render peculiar concepts in English in official texts and to evaluate the translation process outcome in terms of effectiveness and clarity of meaning. To this purpose, a corpus of documents has been scrutinised that have been produced in Italian and then translated into English containing the expression ammortizzatori sociali. The findings of the analysis show that different approaches have been used by EU translators to render this notion which give rise to distinct outcomes as far as translation equivalence and faithfulness are concerned.

Key words: translation, industrial relations, European Union, translation strategies, Italian.

1. Introduction

It is a given that translating legal texts poses a number of challenges, usually stemming from attempts to render national-specific institutions. In this respect, a significant number of scholars in Translation Studies (TS) have looked into the techniques adopted by translators to render outlandish notions in the target language. Extensive literature is indeed available describing strategies to translate unfamiliar notions and enumerating advantages and disadvantages for each of them. Whether opting for formal equivalence or an overall explanation of the concept at hand, some risk might arise to move away from the original meaning, therefore frustrating understanding in the target language. The domain of comparative industrial relations does not escape this rule, particularly because institutions contrasted in this field are frequently non-existent in the target IR system or are culture-bound, an aspect which further augments the challenges to fully appreciate them cross-linguistically. One way to evaluate whether the strategies put in place by translators to transpose unfamiliar concepts are successful is to look at the outcomes of the translation process, to see if the meaning conveyed in the target language is the one originally intended. This is precisely the aim this paper intends to pursue. By taking ammortizzatori sociali – a notion pertaining to Italy’s industrial relations and social security discourse – this research aims at scrutinising the different ways this practice has been translated into English in official EU documentation, assessing the effectiveness of translation outcomes in conveying the original meaning. Specifically, an analysis will be carried out on a set of documents produced in Italian by the European Commission and containing the ammortizzatori sociali terminology. An investigation will follow of the techniques adopted by EU’s jurist-linguists to render this concept in English to see which approach has been the most appropriate to convey the meaning of the original concept in the target language. After supplying the necessary theoretical framework (Section 2) and some methodological considerations (Section 3), a critical discussion will be afforded of the English versions of the documents originally written in Italian and containing the wording under scrutiny (Section 4), which will be followed by some concluding remarks summarising the main research findings (Section 5). The paper intends to provide a contribution to research into approaches and strategies to translation practices, focusing on industrial relations, an interesting, yet little-researched, field from a TS perspective.

2. Theoretical Framework

There is a considerable amount of TS literature examining strategies and practices translators put in use to render foreign concepts in other languages when confronted with legal texts. Many scholars (Bhatia, Candlin and Allori 2008; Depraetere 2011; Glanerte 2014; Kwieciñski 2014; Lörscher 1991; Šarčević 1997, Weissbrod, 2010) have looked at different approaches to legal translation and their effectiveness to successfully convey original meanings. In this respect, Cao (2007) has posited that:

In terms of translation methods and strategies, given the vast differences and diverse situations between different language pairs and different legal systems, many different methods may be utilised […] from literal translation (or formal equivalence, or word for word translation), functional equivalence, to borrowing and descriptive equivalence (Cao 2007: 59).

Other scholars have also endeavoured to classify legal texts to identify the best strategies to render institutional realities effectively. Among them, Garzone (2000) has made an attempt at grouping legal texts into three main categories, according to which different strategies ought to be put in place to translate them into the target language. In passing, she speaks of a) texts requiring a literal translation aimed at producing a parallel text in the TL to be integrated with a commentary b) texts where legal equivalence is sought, aimed at producing natural and fluent texts c) hybrid texts which are all equally authentic so that both legal equivalence and literal translation can be applied. With special reference to multilingual texts produced by the European Commission, on which the set of documents scrutinised in the present paper has been elaborated, a number of theories have been developed describing approaches used by EU translators to address foreign concepts (Ferreri 2014; Lefer 2015; Mazzocchi 2005; Paunio 2016; Šarčević 2016; Schäffner 2001;). Some research has pointed out that EU translations are a product of a multicultural discourse community and come into existence as a translation-specific hybrid text, therefore deserving specific approaches (Trosborg 1997). In other cases, a point has been made that EU translators’ approach is more a “reader-oriented one, empowering the translators to adapt the texts to local needs” (Koskinen 2014: 3), while it is the European Commission (2015) itself that speaks of “circumlocutions and approximations” when translating notions that might not have an equivalent in other languages. Finally, Robertson (2016) makes a compelling argument, maintaining that:

In EU legislative translation, theory is the daughter of practice. The approaches do fit within patterns identified and described within Translation Studies, and knowledge of the alternative strategies possible do indeed solve problems, but the viewpoint proposed here is simply that EU is a pragmatic activity and the needs of the moment and the text in hand tend to impose the type of solution to be adopted (Robertson 2016: 162).

Focusing on the disciplinary domain in question, a review of relevant literature suggests that a limited number of TS scholars (Manzella 2015) has given consideration to strategies to render industrial relations (IR) practices in EU official documents. Indeed, the issue of examining the effectiveness of translation of EU legal texts, to which this study intends to contribute, has been mostly the preserve of IR scholars engaged in comparative analysis (Blanpain and Baker 2010; Hyman 2005) rather than those concerned with Translation Studies. While this can be attributed to the fact that industrial relations discourse tends to be regarded as a subgenre of the legal one in terminological terms, the inherent characteristics of its narrative makes it a subject in its own right. This is true if one considers Hyman’s definition of this discipline, which is regarded as the analysis of “the processes of control over work relations; and among these processes, those involving collective worker organisation and action are of particular concern” (Hyman 1975: 12). Analysing industrial relations practices, one should look at “how particular functions within industrial relations are actually conducted […] who is involved; what types of process, institutions, or mechanisms are used; what rights and power does each party have within those processes; etc.” (Salamon 2000: 30). The peculiar nature of national functions and processes is thus reflected into terminology and needs to be count towards at the time of translating context-specific realities. While the legal component certainly has a role in the making of industrial relations argot, other dimensions ought to be considered to gain full understanding of the concepts scrutinised and provide an effective translation when comparing them cross-nationally. Importantly: the industrial relations systems of different countries generally differ owing to differences in culture, social, economic, and political developments, and government policies. These differences are reflected in the behaviour of trade unions, employers’ associations, and the governments, which are the three key participants in the industrial relations system of a country’ (Soon Beng and Chew 2009: 156).

Therefore, the translation and comparison of national IR practices might prove particularly challenging for, as recalled by Schregle (1981) concepts, expressed in words, are laden with values, emotions, past experiences, and future expectations which are peculiar to national realities. The above must be taken into consideration at the time of examining approaches to translation, yet bearing in mind that irrespective of the strategies adopted, when translating EU official documentation “the priority is fidelity, as language versions of texts must align in their legal effects and concepts must match across languages” (Robertson 2016: 163).

3. Definitions and Methodology

Prior to looking through EU documentation produced in English containing the notion of ammortizzatori sociali, it might be fitting to afford a definition of the concept at hand to enhance appreciation and to enable comparison between the original version and those issued in the target language. For the purposes of the present research, we will rely on a definition of ammortizzatori sociali which has been elaborated on Legislative Decree No. 22 of 4 March 2015 and Legislative Decree No. 48 of 14 September 2015 of Italian legislation. Specifically, this terminology refers to monetary benefits appropriated for income support in the event of unemployment or while still at work. This expression is used metaphorically, as ammortizzatori – which literally means “shock absorbers” in English – are afforded to cushion the social consequences of unemployment or reduced working time. Taking this definition as a starting point, an analysis will be carried out of the English translations of documents originally drafted in Italian, to evaluate the different techniques EU translators put in place to render this practice and see whether the outcome of the translation process conveys or moves away from the original meaning. To this end, research will be conducted on a parallel corpus of 60 official documents issued in Italian by the European Commission, which has been built upon a larger set of 83 documents containing the expression ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ and subsequently compared with their English translation, for a total of 120 documents scrutinised. As controversy exists over the definition of a parallel corpus (Hu 2015), in the context of this paper this terminology will be taken to refer to a set of documents that contains native language (L1) source texts and their (L2) translations (McEnery and Hardie 2012), therefore assuming that the corpus at issue is unidirectional, e.g. it includes source texts in Italian and target texts in English. The corpus has been created drawing on the EUR-lex portal, which supplies access to EU documents in official languages and presents the opportunity to simultaneously visualise the two language versions of the same text. The Italian and English versions were then set side by side to look at approaches to translation and point out possible ambiguities and misinterpretations between target and source texts.  Methodologically, some clarifications are needed:

a) the documents singled out were originally produced in Italian and then translated into English. Two aspects substantiate this argument: the wording ‘Only the Italian version is authentic’ appeared at the top of the Italian version of the texts considered and/or; the texts under discussion make clear reference to the Italian context.

b) The updated versions of the same documents were deliberately ignored, as the terminology referring to ammortizzatori sociali, and its translation, were not amended.

c) To facilitate consultation, only those texts available in html format were included.

d) In the context of this research, time of publication was not regarded as a relevant factor.

In the next section the different approaches used to translate the notion of ammortizzatori sociali will be described and the outcomes examined, presenting the words used in the target language to refer to the Italian concept in order of frequency. 

 

4. Discussion and Analysis

The investigation conducted on the English version of the texts drafted in Italian containing the language ammortizzatori sociali reveals that three main approaches were used in translations made by EU jurist-linguists (see Table no. 1):

Table 1 – Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ in EU documents

 

Occurrences

Shock absorbers

11

Social shock absorbers

10

Safety nets

7

Social safety nets

7

“To cushion”

5

Welfare mechanisms

3

Social protection

3

Social protection measures

2

Social safety valves

1

Social support schemes

1

Social welfare system

2

Social safety measures

1

Social support payments

1

Social security support measures

1

Social security benefits

1

Redundancy

1

Social risks

1

Unemployment insurance schemes

1

Social plans

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

The following constitutes and attempt to classify the approaches translators made use of to render the context-bound notion under discussion. Roughly, three translation strategies emerged at the time of rendering ammortizzatori sociali in English, though further distinctions are possible within each of them, viz.:

a) Literal translation;

b) Attempts to find the equivalent metaphor in the target language;

c) Hypernyms.

An investigation into each of the strategies referred to above will be provided in the pages that follow to assess their effectiveness to transpose the concepts at hand.  

 

Strategy no. 1 - Literal translation

 

Most English-language versions of EU documents originally drafted in Italian translate the notion of ammortizzatori sociali making use of a literal translation, without supplying further explanation (Table 2). The use of a verbatim translation is a widespread practice, especially when confronted with technical terms pertaining to specialised discourse, as it tends to do without “omissions, paraphrasing or other translation techniques” (Byrne 2012: 119) in the attempt “to produce what could be described as a faithful and simple translation” (Byrne 2012: 120).

In the case under discussion in this paper, the Italian concept of ammortizzatori sociali is therefore rendered as “shock absorbers” or “social shock absorbers” in the English-language versions of the texts under examination:

Table 2- Strategy no. 1 – Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ through a literal translation

Translation

Occurrences

Shock absorbers

11

Social shock absorbers

10

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

It is interesting to note that, taking on its own, the wording “shock absorber” refers to “a device for absorbing jolts and vibrations, especially on a vehicle” (Oxford Dictionary 2017). Nevertheless, a closer look reveals that this terminology can take on a figurative meaning also in English in industrial relations parlance. International industrial relations literature is indeed replete with examples of this usage, though the use of “shock absorbers” to refer to income support measures seems to be the preserve of research produced in English examining the Italian context. By way of example, Dell’Aringa and Lodovici (1997) define “social shock absorbers” as “measures that reduces the negative social effects of unemployment. They include unemployment benefits, other social benefits (such as invalidity benefits, sickness benefits), early retirement schemes, training for the unemployed, temporary public work etc.” (Dell’Aringa and Lodovici 1997: 162). Along similar lines, Fargion (2009) makes use of the expression “social shock absorbers” to denote “unemployment coverage and benefit upgrading” (Fargion 2009: 86). In other words, this terminology is not employed consistently in industrial relations discourse to specifically designate forms of income support, but is taken more loosely to convey different meanings, depending on the context. For instance, Roche (2010) speaks of the setting up of a Global Adjustment Fund to be used “as a ‘shock absorber’ for unemployment in the EU which has been created by globalisation” (Roche 2010: 171), while Clack (1967) makes use of this terminology to refer to the role of shop stewards in the industrial relations machinery.  

In other words, in describing the Italian context, there indeed exists a tendency in industrial relations discourse to employ this terminology to translate the notion of ammortizzatori sociali – i.e. payments made by social security institutions in particular circumstances to people who are on a low income for a number of reasons (e.g. termination of employment, reduced working hours). Nevertheless, this formulation is more generally used to refer to processes or actions that might cushion the effects of certain dynamics or processes in other fields, too. Accordingly, readers who have familiarity with the Italian system of social security and master the source language would be able to fully appreciate the meaning of “shock absorbers” to refer to monetary support to help workers under certain economic circumstances. On the contrary, readers of target-language translations – and international audiences more generally – who are not aware of how these safeguarding mechanisms work nor do they read Italian might struggle to grasp the meaning of this rendering, even when examined in context. Comparative industrial relations provide many examples of how the provision of literal translations without appropriate translation might result in ambiguous or obscure renderings. In passing, the case of ammortizzatori sociali resembles that of parti sociali (e.g. trade unions and employers’ associations) which is literally – and ambiguously – translated into English as “social partners”, while the more prosaic “industrial relations actors” would be preferred to express the unambiguous reference to collective representation which is common to all the different nuances of continental usages of the term (Hyman 2005).

Strategy no. 2 – Attempts to find the corresponding metaphor in the target language

Another strategy that seems to be particularly widespread in the texts examined for the purposes of the present study concerns efforts to look for equivalent metaphors in the target language. Rather than merely providing a literal translation of the original formulation – and thus running the risk of being misunderstood – EU jurist-linguists experiment with similar metaphorical expressions in English to convey the same meaning as the one in the source language. As a result of this approach, four translation outcomes can be singled out (Table 3):

Table 3 - Strategy no. 2 –  Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ through the use of metaphor in the target language

Translation

Occurrences

Social safety nets

7

safety nets

7

“To cushion”

5

Social safety valves

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

In the first case, the Italian notion of ammortizzatori sociali is rendered as “social safety nets” (or simply “safety nets”, see case no. 2) in the text produced in English. While acknowledging that the definition of “social safety nets” “might not be fully consistent across countries” (The World Bank 2015: 28), this wording is indeed largely used in English-language industrial relations literature to refer to “instruments aimed at providing extended social protection” (Ahmad 2016: 161). Unlike “shock absorbers”, the meaning of which could be obscure not only to lay readers but also to IR experts who are not familiar with the source language (Italian in our case), the use of “social safety nets” nicely conveys the idea of measures put in place to ensure workers some degree of protection in the event of unfavourable economic contexts. This is precisely the aim of income support measures that is to serve as a safety net for individuals who have to cope with adverse labour market conditions. Another example of the difficulties resulting from attempting to translate figurative language can be found in the third outcome of the translation process. In this specific case, the original idea to provide workers with income support as a form of labour protection has been translated into English with the verb “to cushion”. English translators express the idea that ammortizzatori sociali serve to mitigate the social consequences of unemployment or reduced working time on remuneration with the verb “to cushion”. While this option provides a clear picture of the function performed by ammortizzatori sociali – the actual meaning of the Italian expression is somewhat lost in translation. On close inspection, resorting to “to cushion” explains what ammortizzatori sociali do – i.e. they soften the social effects of unemployment – yet without explaining what they are, viz. financial benefits. Nor can the financial nature of this income support scheme be grasped from context, because this verb is generally employed in the sentence “[…] to cushion the social consequences of […]”, therefore failing to convey its exact meaning. In the last case, the formulation employed to translate the concept of ammortizzatori sociali is “social safety valves”. Yet its frequency – only 1 occurrence has been reported in the analysis of the text scrutinised – reflects its limited usage to refer to the Italian notion under investigation, thus making it irrelevant for the purposes of the present analysis. In addition, the metaphorical usage of safety valve – also in industrial relations argot – usually conveys the meaning of “giving harmless vent to feelings of tension or stress” (Oxford Dictionary 2017) therefore failing to express the intended meaning in Italian. Indeed, Dunn (1990) recalls that while metaphor “can be seen as a useful medium by which scientific concepts are broadcast” (Dunn 1990: 2), its usage can be dangerous, especially in industrial relations, “an area full of figurative language” (2).

Strategy no. 3 – Hypernyms

Translators of the EU documents under evaluation in this paper also make consistent use of hypernyms (also known as superordinates) to render foreign concepts. In other words, they attempt to convey the meaning of this culture-bound notion by employing “a more general word embracing several more specific terms” (Fawcett 2014), with this tendency that can be attributed to the lack of precise target language equivalents (Laviosa 2003). Moreover, the inherent capability of the English language to express general terms, as well as its indefinite semantics, ensure the neutrality of expressions (Felici 2015) which is one of the aims of EU drafters at the time of producing English-language documentation (European Union 2015). Consequently, the recourse to hypernyms gives rise to a number of translation outcomes (Table 4):

Table 4- Strategy no. 3 –  Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ through hypernyms

Translation

Occurrences

Welfare mechanisms

3

Social protection

3

Social welfare system

2

Social protection measures

2

Social support schemes

1

Social security measures

1

Social support payments

1

Social security support measures

1

Social security benefits

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

For instance, in some cases, reference is generally made to the fact that ammortizzatori sociali are a form of protection (“social protection”; “social protection measures”). In other cases, the focus is on the fact that these are welfare-related initiatives (“welfare mechanisms”; “social welfare systems”), while in yet other cases EU translators seem to want to emphasize the fact that the support provided is a financial one (“social security benefits”; “social security measures”; “social security support measures”; “social support schemes”, “social support payments”). Finally, in one case translators make use of the expression “social safety measures” which recalls the notion of social safety net examined before. One might note that while these formulations appear to be satisfactory in that they convey the general idea of the original meaning (e.g. providing support) a further explanation might be useful to explain how and when such assistance is provided (e.g. monetary aid supplied as a form of income support in case of unemployment or while still in employment). This would help readers who are not familiar with the Italian system of social security to form an idea of how this aid works. On the contrary, a concise expression like those examined can only produce “nebulous meaning”, as Bhatia et al. would put it (2005).

- Misleading renderings

In passing, in examining the outcomes of the translation process, mention should also be made of some renderings which might be misleading in English (Table 5):

Table no. 5 – Misleading translations of ammortizzatori sociali into English

Translation

Occurrences

Redundancy

1

Social risks

1

Unemployment insurance schemes

1

Social plans

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

For instance, ammortizzatori sociali has been translated into English as “social plans” and “redundancy”. Yet these translations might be ambiguous, because ammortizzatori sociali also apply when workers are still at work and not necessarily entail termination of employment. Nor would “unemployment benefits” be an accurate translation, for ammortizzatori sociali can also be granted while still in employment. Finally, the English rendering “social risk” hints at a lack of understanding of the Italian notion, perhaps induced by the Italian word sociali (which indeed does translate “social”). 

5. Conclusion

 

This paper has sought to examine strategies put in place by EU translators at the time of rendering context-specific concepts in the target language, on the one hand, and the effectiveness of the translation process, on the other hand. To this end, the focus has been on industrial relations terminology and, specifically, on the notion of ammortizzatori sociali, which is peculiar to the Italian context, to see how this notion has been translated into English in a corpus of documents produced by the European Commission. Different approaches have been identified that have been adopted by jurist-linguists to convey the original meaning and make it understandable to an international audience. Leaving aside cases where the English translation of ammortizzatori sociali is clearly misleading – which, it bears clarifying, constituted only a minority of the texts examined – three strategies have emerged through which EU translators have attempted to render the concepts under scrutiny, which have been classified as follows: literal translation; attempts to find an equivalent metaphor in the target language; hypernyms. Examining the outcomes of the first strategy, one might conclude that rendering ammortizzatori sociali literally produces an outcome that only in part can be regarded as accurate. As we have seen, “shock absorbers” is indeed frequently employed to refer to the notion of ammortizzatori sociali, but it might also take on other meanings, e.g. measures or initiatives put forward to mitigate the effects of certain dynamics or processes which are not necessarily related to low income or unemployment. Consequently, and even when analysed in context, international readers who are not familiar with the Italian system of industrial relations, might struggle to appreciate the full meaning of this form of income support. As for the second strategy adopted by translators – that is the attempt to look for equivalent metaphors in English – it has been pointed out that this has given rise to three formulations in the target language. In some cases – that is when the notion of ammortizzatori sociali has been translated as “social safety nets” or by using the verb “to cushion”– translators’ strategy has proven effective because this expression is widely employed in English-language documents to refer to mechanisms put in place to supply workers with some sort of social protection. In other cases – e.g. when the expression “social safety valves” or “social valves” have been used – the metaphor employed to render the Italian notion of ammortizzatori sociali has produced non-idiomatic texts with obscure meaning, making it difficult for English-speaking readers to fully grasp the significance of this notion, particularly when no other explanation is provided. Finally, some EU translators have decided to translate the notion of ammortizzatori sociali into English by making use of a periphrasis or by giving the general sense of the concept. While useful to provide the overall idea, these expressions should also be accompanied by a further clarification, to allow readers who have no familiarity with Italian industrial relations to understand how ammortizzatori sociali work.

To conclude, strategies concerning the use of a verbatim translation and the attempt to find equivalent metaphor in the target language have proven effective only to some extent, while providing a general description of the concept at hand might be successful if more details are provided about the notion being translated. In passing, one might also wonder why in none of the translated texts considered have EU jurist-linguists opted to leave the expression in Italian and supplement it with a footnote. Overall, supplying a more specific explanation rather than simply attempting to prove a snappy term would help English-speaking readership to fully appreciate the meaning of the concept they might not be familiar with.        

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Table 1 – Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ in EU documents

 

Occurrences

Shock absorbers

11

Social shock absorbers

10

Safety nets

7

Social safety nets

7

“To cushion”

5

Welfare mechanisms

3

Social protection

3

Social protection measures

2

Social safety valves

1

Social support schemes

1

Social welfare system

2

Social safety measures

1

Social support payments

1

Social security support measures

1

Social security benefits

1

Redundancy

1

Social risks

1

Unemployment insurance schemes

1

Social plans

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

Table 2- Strategy no. 1 – Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ through a literal translation

 

Occurrences

Shock absorbers

11

Social shock absorbers

10

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

Table 3 - Strategy no. 2 –  Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ through the use of metaphor in the target language

 

Occurrences

Social safety nets

7

safety nets

7

“To cushion”

5

Social safety valves

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

Table 4- Strategy no. 3 –  Translation of ‘ammortizzatori sociali’ through hypernyms

Welfare mechanisms

3

Social protection

3

Social welfare system

2

Social protection measures

2

Social support schemes

1

Social security measures

1

Social support payments

1

Social security support measures

1

Social security benefits

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

Table no. 5 – Misleading translations of ammortizzatori sociali into English

Redundancy

1

Social risks

1

Unemployment insurance schemes

1

Social plans

1

Source: Author’s elaboration from EU Texts, 2017

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