Lost in Translation- Language, Culture and the Roles of Translator in Cross-Cultural Management Research

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Lost in translation? Language, culture and the roles of translator in cross-cultural management research Huiping Xian
Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour Division, Graduate Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK Abstract
Purpose – To promote more open discussion on translating data, this paper aims to provide a critical and reflexive evaluation of the problems and issues that the author experienced with regard to qualitative data translation. Design/methodology/approach – Drawing on personal experiences of translating Chinese women’s narratives into English, the author demonstrates that qualitative data translation may have linguistic, cultural and methodological problems. Findings – Researchers and translators should recognize the linguistic and cultural differences that data translation must negotiate. It is argued here that researchers and translators should preserve and highlight cultural differences rather than resembling the dominant values of the target culture by translation. A translator is an integral part of the knowledge producing system. The roles of the translator as both an inter-cultural communicator and a data interpreter must be acknowledged in the research process. Originality/value – This paper challenges common assumptions that data translation is merely a technical problem, and that a translator could “objectively and faithfully” transfer meanings of research data from source language to target language. Keywords Cross-cultural management, Management research, Cross-cultural studies, Interpreters, Languages Paper type Conceptual paper

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Introduction Business and management research has been traditionally dominated by Anglo-American culture, and the English language dominates. This situation has changed during the last few decades as a result of an increasing amount of international and cross-cultural research. Many research projects involve researchers and participants from different cultural backgrounds. Moreover, many researchers prefer to write and publish their works in a common language, for example English, to attract the attentions of a wider audience. Data translation therefore becomes a crucial issue in this “globalization” of business and management research. Yet surprisingly, although in recent years there have been debates about language and translation problems in preparing questionnaires (Douglas and Craig, 2007) and in conducting The author thanks Professors Catherine Cassell and Eileen Fairhurst for their encouragement and feedback in the development of this paper.

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal Vol. 3 No. 3, 2008 pp. 231-245 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1746-5648 DOI 10.1108/17465640810920304

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interviews (Welch and Piekkari, 2006), the issue of translating data is rarely singled out. Current understanding of data translation seems to be predominately underpinned by positivist assumptions that there can be objective accounts existing between languages, and that a translator has nothing but technical roles. Frequently, all is summarized in a simple statement that “data are translated from language A to language B by a researcher or translator(s)”, and all citations appear to be nice and tidy. The dilemmas and problems of the process remain in some sort of “black box”. However, as I will illustrate in this paper, data translation is highly problematic. The presuppositions that all cultural elements can be carried across unchanged in the translation process and that the translator can remain “invisible” are in need of rethinking if international or cross-cultural research projects are really seeking to extend existing knowledge to a global context, as is increasingly the case. The purpose of this paper is thus two-folded....
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