Language(s) in the global news: Translation, audience design and discourse (mis)representation

Robert Holland

In September 1999 B.J. Habibie, then President of Indonesia, made a public statement concerning the proposed deployment of UN peacekeeping troops to East Timor. Habibie made ‘the statement’ twice, once in Indonesian, then again in English, and differences between the two resulting texts cannot straightforwardly be explained in terms of the different languages employed. This paper examines the two original versions, along with various representations of these that appeared in British and US news media. Processes of text production and dissemination are discussed, and linguistic and translational choices analysed in relation to context and audience, along with the possible reasons underlying those choices and some of their potential effects upon interpretation. In this case, it is argued, different news audiences may have received significantly different impressions of the content and tone of the original speech—depending, for example, upon the particular media through which they accessed the text.

Table of contents

We are accustomed to hearing the current historical period described as ‘the information age’, and it is clear that we obtain much of our information through various forms of mass media. Recent years have witnessed an explosive proliferation of mediatised news on a global scale, such that even the most dedicated watcher of the media cannot hope to see, hear or read more than a tiny fraction of it. But while news has become increasingly ‘globalised’ in some respects, and despite the recent advent of non-western media outlets such as the Arabic [ p. 230 ]TV station al-Jazeera, the means of gathering and disseminating news largely remain concentrated in a handful of big, western-based institutions (Bell 1991: 15–17; Herman and McChesney 1997: 18–19). These institutions have an overwhelmingly powerful voice in deciding what is—and is not—‘newsworthy’ (van Ginneken 1998: 22–40) and in representing ‘the news’ to the world.

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