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Professional groups

Continuous eroding of opportunities for remaining neutral is being done in an increasingly polarized and violent world, and individual positioning of translators-like most professional groups has become difficult due to a number of narratives, which have surrounded these groups. Today, the worldwide web has become а symbolic space in which peace activists and marginalized groups who wish to challenge dominant discourses can elaborate and practice а moral order in tune with their own narratives of the world.

Translation enables such groups to elaborate their alternative narratives across national and linguistic boundaries, to create an international community bound by а similar vision of the world and unhindered by linguistic frontiers. At the same time, the professionals who provide these translations are beginning to organize themselves in various ways in order to elaborate their own narratives and play а distinct role in shaping an alternative vision of the world.

As communities of activists in the translation world continue to form and develop their profiles, narrative theory enables us not only to critique their translation practices but also their own narratives about themselves. This is an important line of research to pursue, as І demonstrate here, not least because developing а critical stance towards the stories circulating among members of а community may ultimately help it to avoid sustaining the very narratives it set out to challenge. Remembering Reddy (1979) work on conduit metaphors in ordinary language, it seems fitting to recreate his framework for re-conceiving human communication.

Creating а contrast between the conduit metaphor and а different metaphorical concept, Reddy suggests а story in which people are likened to toolmakers confined to individual, slightly different, environments that are unable to communicate or show each other tools they have constructed for survival within each environment. In order to communicate their ideas, they exchange sets of instructions that are passed to others through а device that does not allow talking or even а glimpse of the tool itself.

As the story unfolds, person А builds а rake, suitable for cleaning her surroundings of leaves and plants, and then tries to communicate the idea of this new tool to others. Person B, however, finds it difficult to interpret the set of instructions because her environment is slightly rockier. Moreover, stones are the only material available to construct the rake, rather than the wood А has. Since it never occurred to А that other environments could be different from her own, her instructions are difficult for B to follow.

As B tries to construct the tool А has built, she builds а different implement. After revising the instructions and creating а new tool, she sends а new set of instructions. Now А has а set of instructions that are not the same as the ones she sent, and she struggles to interpret what B is doing and why she is building this different tool. As А thinks, she realizes that B must have а different set of requirements for tools. Now А and B send new instructions back and forth, they have raised themselves to а new level of inference about each other and their environments.

In this framework, human communication requires а great deal of energy compared to the conduit framework which implies that successful communication is effortless. In а conduit framework the tool itself would have been exchanged. When person B received А’s tool, she would not have to build anything herself or guess at any of the instructions. In terms of language and communication, conduit metaphors imply that а person sends off the actual construct of an idea where it lands fully formed in the mind and understanding of another person.

This is success without effort and considering for а moment the individual and social differences found in human beings, we know this is not the case in an exchange of ideas and information. We can understand why conduit metaphors have such а powerful grasp on our thought processes. If, within our own universe of face-to face interaction, our communication is with people who share similar backgrounds, knowledge, life experiences, and communicative styles, then talking is easy and understanding facile. Not until we are faced with drastic differences do we find communication demanding, even uncomfortable.

Both of these metaphoric frameworks offer an explanation of communication, but they lead to very different conclusions about what is natural in the activity of communicating and what is less natural: “In terms of the conduit metaphor, what requires explanation is failure to communicate. Success appears to be automatic. But if we think in terms of the toolmakers’ paradigm, our expectation is precisely the opposite. Partial miscommunication or divergence of readings from а single text is not aberrations. The system has inherent them as tendencies, and only continuous effort, as well as, large amounts of verbal interaction can counteracted them.

In this view, natural scattering of things would be done, unless the energy for gathering them is expanded by the people. (Reddy 1979: 295-6) If communication requires а great deal of effort on the part of participants, then interpreting such communication requires even more effort and energy. Reddy’s words caution us that rather than explaining failure, or errors in interpreting, we should be asking about the larger system of communicating across languages. Successful interpreting is not effortless and is not automatic. It deserves our attention.

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