Translating Crises. Trust and Mistrust in Multilingual Wonderland - Alexandre Duchêne

16 November 2023 17:15 to 18:30 Lecture/talk

Beyond Truth and Lies will host a public lecture by Alexandre Duchêne, Professor of Sociology of Language, University of Fribourg (CH). The title of the lecture is "Translating Crises. Trust and Mistrust in Multilingual Wonderland.”


Translation has always been a crucial tool for the state management of a multilingual population. In has proven to be even more salient in crisis situations, such as the pandemic we all recently experienced. In a multilingual wonderland, such as Switzerland, composed of four national languages and where an important part of the population is of migration background, the state, and many other actors (NGO, grassroots organizations), were extremely active in terms of translation during the pandemic. Some state documents were translated in a maximalist way (up to 26 languages for certain documents), others in a targeted way (in specific languages supposed to reach specific communities), and some were not translated at all.

In this talk, I will scrutinize why, what, and for whom “texts” are translated. I will show that language choices, as well as the choice of which documents should be translated – or not – underline the role of translation as an instrument of governmentality. Indeed, while migrant languages had been rarely the subject of state translations, these languages were strategically mobilized during the pandemic. Trust was among the arguments for doing so. First, through translation the state aimed at providing trustful information, in contrast to information provided by the migrant population’s countries of origin, that were considered, by the Swiss state, as potentially unreliable. Second, trust was part of the “making people do things in a Swiss way” strategy of the communication crises. In order to make people obedient and compliant, addressing them in their languages and thus displaying inclusiveness through a certain politics of recognition, was considered to maximize the immigrant population’s trust. However, as I will show, language choices and translation choices are never neutral, they index people and groups and potentially stigmatize certain communities. The translation logic also undermines the complex relationship of marginalized groups of people with the state. They do not necessarily trust the state, nor endorse the idea that it provides trustful information. Trust and mistrust, hence, become a crucial part of the politics of translation and, subsequently, part of our understanding of the debated communication crisis.


Alexandre Duchêne is Full Professor of the Sociology of Language and Co-Director of the Institute of Multilingualism at the University of Fribourg. His research is situated at the interface between linguistics and social science and is concerned with the role of language in the production of differences and social inequalities. He was invited professor at ENS Lyon (France), the University of Jyväskylä (Finland), the Université Laval (Canada) and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (USA). He is the General Editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language and a member of numerous editorial boards of international journals. Together with Deborah Cameron, he co-edits the Routledge series The Politics of Language.


After the lecture, a simple buffet is served in the staff dining room. No notification needed.



About the event:

16 November 2023 17:15 to 18:30

LUX:C121, Helgonavägen 3, Lund


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