New Article in Tilburg Law Review

Is there A Right to Untranslatability?: Asylum, Evidence and the Listening State | Link to article

co-authored with Sarah Craig, Senior Lecturer in Public Law, University of Glasgow

SarahCraigThis article focuses on Refugee Status Determination (rsd) procedures, in order to understand the relationships among language, translation / interpreting, evidentiary assessment, and what we call the ‘listening state’. Legal systems have only recently begun to consider whether adjudicative processes ought to take place in multiple languages concurrently, or whether the ideal procedure is to monolingualize evidence first, and then assess it accordingly. Because of this ambivalence, asylum applicants are often left in the ‘zone of uncertainty’ between monolingualism and multilingualism. Their experiences and testimonies become subject to an ‘epistemic anxiety’ only infrequently seen in other areas of adjudication. We therefore ask whether asylum applicants ought to enjoy a ‘right to untranslatability’, taking account of the State’s responsibility to cooperate actively with them or whether the burden ought to remain with the applicant to achieve credibility in the language of the respective jurisdiction, through interpretation and translation.

This work was funded by a UK Arts and Humanities Council Large Grant “Researching Multilingually” from the Translating Cultures Programme.

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Visiting Arizona State University

David_Gramling Lecture

Image | Posted on by

Palliative Care Conversations: Clinical and Applied Linguistic Perspectives

Gramlingnewstoolstoryde Gruyter 2018, series Language and Social Life, co-authored with Robert Gramling MD, DSc (University of Vermont). Pre-order here.


An excerpt from the first page of the book:

“Palliative Care Conversations arose from the interactional work of hundreds of people speaking with one another about life-and-death issues ranging from the profound to the minute—often under conditions of great duress, suffering, and distraction. On one level, the “work” these people do—for and with one another—is the work of emotion, understanding, spirituality, empathy, morality, comfort, expertise, logistics, nourishment, community, care, and imagination. But this work is always also the work of conversation, where participants—ranging from physicians and nurse practitioners to medical students, family friends, and seriously ill persons themselves—spontaneously co-create a complex and diverse fabric of conversational speech acts among them, which help them accomplish certain interactional goals and meanings in certain moments. Sometimes these goals are vague and diffuse to the observer, sometimes they are stunningly overt and precise. Sometimes participants’ contributions to conversations have to do with concrete clinical realities, and sometimes they have nothing to do with hospitals or illness whatsoever. Sometimes various participants’ goals coincide with one another; often they do not. We titled this book Palliative Care Conversations in the plural, so as to emphasize that we do not believe in a single exemplary, model conversation that ought to be followed in contexts of serious, life-limiting illness—contexts often called End-of-Life conversations—when multiple curative interventions have proven ineffective over time. There are many such models, and many of these are presented in this book, thanks to the efforts of the patients, families, and clinicians featured in the forthcoming chapters.”


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Monash-PratoI travel to Prato, Italy, this week to talk with colleagues from the #Transcollaborate working group about the ins and outs of collaborative translating in 2017. My talk description is below.

Seven Stadia Long:
On the Disorderly Social Sojourn of TransCollaboration

This talk takes a wide-angle look at the politics, political economy, ethics, linguistics, historical grounds and contemporary worldviews that compel us in 2017 to recommit to the ancient norm of translating and translanguaging collaboratively—particularly in times of for-profit war, linguaphobia, social death, reactionary monolingualism, and the radical acceleration of the “translation machine of global credit-debt” (Lezra 2015: 175). Drawing on various traditions of theory within and without of Translation Studies, this talk however focuses ultimately on the practical and social experience of collaborating subjects, in an era when automated, individuated, algorithmic, and crowd-sourced cross-linguistic big-data management platforms are presumed to ensure optimal reliability. In this light, collaborative translation is re-envisioned as a counter-practice of resistance, one in which new tools for mutual recognition, social defamiliarization, historical kinship, and metalinguistic reflection may be seen to dwell. Accordingly, the talk offers some initial recommendations for practitioners on how to get ready for translingual collaboration, both for those who already love “group work” and for those who may treasure the solitary journey most.

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Steganographic Cover art


My book The Invention of Monolingualism has been out for a few months now, and I’ve enjoyed seeing it in the hands of friends, strangers, colleagues, teachers, and researchers. One particular aspect of the process I’ve been pleased about is the cover photo by Matt Thorsen. I’ve met Matt a few times through friends in Burlington, Vermont, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with him immensely. The night we first met, back around 2001, Matt was projecting his photographs from the second-floor window of a house on Saint Louis Street in Burlington’s Old North End. His artwork  was landing on the clapboard side of the house across the street; the materials of the house and of the images were scraping curiously at each other.

The image on the cover of The Invention of Monolingualism is Matt’s photo “The Family Organ.” It was given to me as a gift by a mutual friend, Don Eggert, Associate Publisher of the Vermont alternative news-weekly Seven Days. The photo came to me in 5×7 format, glued onto a stiff brown tackboard, with some cut-out print letters glued to it below in yellow. I don’t remember what the letters spelled out, and I’ve never quite felt entitled to ask Matt or Don to tell me what they think about the photo themselves.

The photo itself has always warmed me with its quizzical, cozy, haunting haphazardness—something along the lines of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Filling Station.” The focus is a bit off, which is something I hardly notice when looking at it, because of my congenital ocular albinism. (Images that appear passably clear to me are often jarring to others.) I was surprised and delighted to learn that Bloomsbury were allowing me to use it as is—without sharpening or otherwise adulterating the blur, and even without a negative available.

Generally, the delivery of a “family organ” in mid-2oth century America signaled a household’s arrival into affluence and leisure. Like monolingualism, the household organ was a hard-won prize, after centuries of industrialization. Also, like monolingualism, the technology of the electronic organ itself relied on the hyperrationalization of meaning-making materials and their division into manageable, transposable parts. The organ was a particular oddity of political economy—evocative and performative at once.

In Matt Thorsen’s image, the organ is unplugged and is covered up. Perhaps it is about to be moved somewhere else, having ceded its once celebrated functionality and social prestige to more advanced technologies? Maybe, though, the placement of the cord (for easy reach) and the inviting distance between bench and organ signal that it is actually in quite frequent use, despite appearances. What kind of room is this anyway—with so little else on the walls, and no particular floor covering? Maybe the glowing throw-blanket atop it is more talismanic than disattentive? Maybe the family loves this organ more than it thinks it does—more than its other, more conspicuous possessions?

One strong personal motivation for sharing Matt’s photo on the cover of the book was the simple likelihood that, if copies of The Invention of Monolingualism were to be floating around bookstores, offices, and libraries, I’d never face the prospect of losing—in a fire, a move, or an overeager decluttering—this beautiful gift that was given to me decades ago. So I suppose I’ve just hidden one of my most treasured images in plain sight.

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Fisch out of Water — à la carte!

The German Studies Department and the Deutscher Studenten Club celebrated the sixth year of Fisch out of Water on October 27, at Cafe Passé. With performances and readings in Spanish, Turkish, German, Hebrew, and French, around fifty members of the Tucson community took part in the experience of multilingual being and accented language. In this installment of Fisch, performers circulated to the various tables at the Cafe, performing the piece that the table had ordered. Appetizers and deserts came in the form of original music in Spanish from the stage, and cover performances in German. Please join us for the next Fisch on December 8!dsc09121

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New essay on Pina Bausch


A new essay, entitled “Seven Types of Multilingualism, or Wim Wenders Enfilms Pina Bausch” appeared in Lisa Patti and Tijana Mamula’s wonderful new collection The Multilingual Screen, published by Bloomsbury. Dance is a notoriously difficult topic to write about because, even more than language, it is a form of expression and competence that does not succumb to singular meanings and interpretations. I welcome feedback on the essay and look forward to discussing it with you, especially if you’ve watched, enjoyed, or disliked Wenders’ Pina film. You can find the essay here.

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