Avril 2022


Spotlight on... Valérie Dullion

Valérie Dullion has been an Associate Professor at the FTI since 2011. She specialises in legal and institutional translation, as well as the history of translation, and is a member of Transius. She teaches translation and revision, primarily from German to French, and also oversees continuation education programmes in these fields, providing training for translators working in numerous Swiss institutions. From 2011 to 2019, she was head of the French Unit and co-director of the Translation Department of the FTI. She holds a translation degree from the University of Geneva and a PhD in linguistics from UCLouvain.

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At first glance, the links between legal translation and the history of translation may not be evident. What is the interest in uniting these two fields?

If we take a step back from the professional practices we are familiar with today in legal translation, it becomes apparent that these practices are not simply determined by technical needs. They are also based on choices that were made in the past, selected from different options and sometimes subject to heated debate. Conversely, if we extend the history of translation to “practical” activities, including those in the most specialised and codified fields, we can take the measure of how these activities are positioned in the actual functioning of multilingual societies, both on a day-to-day basis and as they undergo transformation.

Institutional translation lies somewhere between language regimes (the principles that determine the status and use of languages in a State) and the reality of multilingual practices. In my research on Switzerland, I have observed that official translation coexists with various forms of non-official translation that are carried out over the long term, and there is an interplay between translation and other multilingual practices. I have also noted that there is a close correlation between how institutional translation evolved in the nineteenth century, during the first decades of the modern federal state, and how relationships between the state and its citizens changed in view of federalism and semi-direct democracy.

You are co-supervising a new research project entitled “Places of translation” that is devoted to the history of translation policies in cities in Belgium and Switzerland. Can you tell us more about this project?

It is a comparative study on the development of local translation policies in two countries in the nineteenth century. We will be looking at how translation was regulated, carried out and debated, with the help of legal and administrative documents collected from the archives of public institutions. These texts will be gathered in a database then analysed using digital tools. I am co-supervising the four-year project with Professor Reine Meylaerts from the Research Group Translation and Intercultural Transfer at KU Leuven. It is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), under the Weave agreement, which facilitates international collaborations. Thanks to this project, we will be able to fund two PhD students, including one who will be based at the Transius centre in Geneva.

Why focus on cities? And why specifically Belgium and Switzerland in the nineteenth century?

Besides the fact that “going local” is in fashion, cities have a multilingual population and their institutions are directly in contact with this population. Belgium and Switzerland are two states with several official languages that have subscribed to a liberal and democratic political model for over a century and a half. Their language regimes, however, evolved from very different roots that were established with the foundation of the modern state in 1830 and 1848, respectively. For this project, we are particularly interested in interactions between the local and national levels. How does the national language regime influence the capacity of cities to develop translation policies that are adapted to their sociolinguistic reality, which includes non-national languages? We will be looking at several cities: Bern, Geneva and Biel/Bienne in Switzerland, and Brussels, Antwerp and Liege in Belgium. The decades leading up to the end of the First World War were a period of development. We intend to examine how translation policies were established and what kinds of effects they produced, as well as analyse the processes of institutionalisation and professionalisation, among other phenomena.

What are your other areas of research?

I am working on legal translation competencies and interdisciplinarity, with a particular focus on terminology. Because our predecessors in the nineteenth century only had a very limited number of technical tools, they had to be careful when deciding what texts to translate and which methods to use. Today, we have the technical capacity to mass produce translations, but we are now dealing with new challenges, in terms of how to evaluate and guarantee the quality of translations produced at this scale. In legal translation, for example, one critical issue is determining how to ensure precision.

What are the links between your research and other activities and projects at the FTI?

I teach Master-level legal and institutional translation courses from German and Italian into French. I am also preparing a new continuing education course that will be offered in fall 2022 on the stakes, resources and methods involved in legal translation in Switzerland. Participants will have the opportunity to perfect their skills in navigating Swiss law, carrying out computerised legal research and dealing with different types of texts.

My research serves as the basis for making my students aware that each professional context has its specificities, enabling them to understand how to best position themselves in the production and reception of legal texts, as well as identify the most suitable translation strategies. For example, historical and comparative studies have brought to light facts that challenge the idea that legal texts must be translated literally. It is important to be able to reflect and put things into perspective, as today’s legal translation context is no longer simply about facilitating exchanges between clearly defined national legal systems, but also participating along with many other actors in the growth and functioning of a law with complex international structures – a law that is often multilingual from its very birth because of the sources it draws from.