Speaking in tongues


In Europe a constant flow of information across borders means that texts are translated back and forth. Surely translations this has an effect, however subtle. Why are some topics gaining in publicity and others don’t? What effect does the translation process of news, facts and data on how topics are treated in national contexts?

Who is doing the translation? How is the process of transformation being checked? How do we track the subtle differences in meaning and understanding? Given the many languages spoken in EU member countries translations play a so far mainly unmeasured role on how and when topics are noted, understood and acted upon. Jessica Mariani, a PhD candidate from the University of Verona researched the topic for her PhD thesis.

Why did you choose this particular topic for your thesis?

Mariani: „While training as a Press Officer at the European Parliament in Brussels, I realized the importance of an accurate information flow across the EU and its geographic, linguistic and cultural boundaries.

Press Officers and journalists in the European context frequently translate news texts from English/French into their own language and vice versa, although they don’t often qualify themselves as professional translators. Semiologist and writer Umberto Eco claimed that “Translation is the language of Europe”; communicating EU activities and aims has become a challenging task for Press Services and European media professionals in such a multilingual context.

At present, News Translation is an ordinary task for press officers and journalists, but it still remains under-investigated by academics, with reference to translation processes and cross-linguistic transfer. Thus, research and ethnographic investigation of journalism everyday practices might contribute to outline the role translation has gained in reporting the news and measure the risk of misinformation across languages and cultures.“

How did you investigate differences, what main theories were investigated?

Mariani: "In order to support a thesis, one needs to firstly base the research on case studies and provide evidence. In this case, I have chosen McNelly’s (1959) Theory of News Flow as my starting point. The news flow goes through three phases, from the institution to the press service, from the press service to the media and finally, from the media to the readership; this means that a news-text gets re-translated several times. Furthermore, Translation Studies as a discipline provides useful tools for linguistic analysis; Critical Discourse Analysis, whose forerunner is scholar Fairclough, enables researchers to analyze translated texts not only from a linguistic perspective but also with reference to the “actors” involved and the context itself. Translation is not only based on linguistic equivalence; as stated by Edward’s Sapir (1956) theory about linguistic difference: “No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached”.

„The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached”
- Source: Edward Sapir

Are journalists aware of the role translations have for reporting?

Mariani:  „What has emerged from academic research so far is that journalists do not usually define themselves as translators; instead, they prefer to be referred to as “multilingual journalists” or “international journalists”. But translation is not only based on literal linguistic equivalence and often involves cultural patterns that professional translators are usually trained to evaluate.“

What is your main suggestion to newsrooms?

Mariani: „Newsrooms should be aware that “translating” is a cultural process and if attention is not paid to certain cross- cultural elements, it can easily lead to misunderstandings and misinformation. What I will try to discuss in my thesis is also the eventual birth of a new professional role, the “journalinguist”, a media professional who possesses consolidated linguistic skills and news-sense.“


Brief bio
Jessica Mariani is a PhD Candidate in Media and Translation Studies at the University of Verona and her three-year research project entitles: “News Translation in European Context: Building a European Perspective”. After graduating in Journalism and Public Relations, she worked as an entertainment reporter at “Hotpress Magazine” in Dublin and Verona. She has recently trained as a Press Officers at the European Parliament in Brussels. Her interests range from European Affairs to Music and Entertainment, to Investigative and Data Journalism to Transparency and Civil Rights. At present, she researches the language of translated news with reference to the EU and investigates the role of “news translators” in newsrooms.