Languages and Translation Research

Research in Languages, Translation and Interpreting at Swansea encompasses Arabic, French, German and Hispanic Studies with strengths in written culture from the medieval period to the present day, including contemporary European cinema. We also have language expertise in Italian and Mandarin Chinese. 


Our interests range from the French medieval lyric and Enlightenment drama to women's writing and feminism; travel; the conflicted memories of World War Two; film and literature about the Baader-Meinhof Group; and the works of the Nobel Laureates, Elias Canetti, Jean Cocteau, Günter Grass, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Herta Müller. Our dynamic research environment which has won attention and funding from outside bodies such as the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Modern Humanities Research Association, the Wellcome Trust and the EU. 

Making an Impact

We seek and achieve impact among non-academic beneficiaries locally, nationally and internationally, in two main respects:

1. Fostering cross-cultural knowledge and understanding, with benefits to: a) local participants in Latin American Association festivals; b) Wales-wide NGOs in the asylum and refugee sector; c) Wales-wide school/college students and teachers through video seminars; d) UK and international publics through online projects, broadcast and print media and live appearances as experts; e) cultural associations with reach outside academia, through executive service, web mastering etc to the Friedrich Nietzsche Society, Société Marguerite Duras, British Comparative Literature Association.

2. Economic benefits to regional SMEs in language industries, and their wider industry clients: through language-learning and translation resource and software development, research collaboration, upskilling employees, and by fostering a vibrant and innovative translation studies environment.

Major Research Centres & Projects

Mrs Peabody Investigates

Dr Katharina Hall's blog Mrs Peabody Investigates has been fostering public debate on German, European and international crime fiction since January 2011. Beneficiaries include readers, authors, translators, publishers, critics and bloggers in 130 countries. With over 210,000 hits and 2500 comments, the blog has been featured on BBC Radio 4 and is linked by BBC Online, crime blogs, and publisher/author websites. Providing a distinctive service of academically-informed reviews of high-quality crime fiction, Mrs Peabody Investigates is regarded in the industry as 'a ground-breaking blog that is transforming readers' understanding and appreciation of international crime' (The Times crime-fiction critic). 

The underpinning research is Dr Hall’s current research project, Detecting the Past:Representations of National Socialism and its Legacies in Transnational Crime Fiction’, which emerged from a journal article on Schlink's The Reader in 2006. The project comprises the first large-scale, comparative analysis of representations of National Socialism in post-1945 trans-national crime fiction, including adaptations for television and film. Thus far, over 150 primary texts of ‘Nazi-themed crime fiction’ have been identified from over 25 countries.

Hafan Books Project

The Hafan Books project publishes creative writing by asylum-seekers and refugees in South Wales. The project promotes a civic culture of hospitality, compassion and respect through the publications, large-scale festive launch events, and further creative outputs. Beneficiaries include contributors and other refugees, charity workers and volunteers, and arts organisations. The publications are widely used in professional refugee awareness training. The project has been recognised as exemplary for refugee awareness and integration though arts and has been emulated in the UK and overseas.

The Hafan Books project applies insights from Dr Tom Cheesman’s research since 1995 on migrant literatures, and develops collaborations with arts and charity organisations in Wales founded in that research process. It is underpinned by the findings of a multidisciplinary British/German comparative project: ‘Axial Writing: Transnational Literatures, Cultural Politics and State Policies’, within the ESRC’s ‘Transnational Communities’ Research Programme (1998-2002); Cheesman undertook ‘action research’ in Germany and the UK, participating in transethnic projects initiated by migrant writers and engaging with funding and policy agencies. Exiled/refugee writers emerged as an under-recognised group, amidst celebrations of postmigrant hybridity.



    • The Centre for the Comparative Study of the Americas (CECSAM)

    Unit staff in the Centre for the Comparative Study of the Americas (CECSAM) have been instrumental in organising week-long Latin American Festivals in Swansea (2010-11), with most events held at the Dylan Thomas Centre: poetry readings, book launches, lectures, seminars, film screenings, dance workshops and theatre productions, attracting up to 600 participants. Organised with the Asociación Latinamerica de Swansea (ALAS), the festivals provided a forum for public engagement with Unit-based research, focusing on Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Mexico. In turn, ALAS members frequently attend CECSAM seminars. These shared activities have increased public understanding of Latin America’s cultural wealth, contemporary politics and historical links with Wales. They have contributed to cultural renewal in the local community, and received not only local but UK-wide coverage (BBC Radio 4, The Guardian).



    • The Centre for Contemporary German Culture (CCGC)
    • The Centre for Contemporary German Culture, the Unit’s highest-profile centre, was founded in 1993 with a grant from the Welsh Office. The Centre’s remit was one of public engagement: it was tasked with raising the profile of German culture in Wales and fostering intercultural exchange (impact avant la lettre), with a Writers in Residence programme, public readings, translations, and a book series largely accessible to non-academic readerships (11 vols to 2007, 2 published in 2012/13). The Centre’s public impact on writers and readers, aided by collaborations with the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst and the Austrian Cultural Forum, has been international as much as local. In September 2010, fifteen leading German-language writers, including Nobel Prizewinners Herta Müller and Elfriede Jelinek, signed a letter to The Guardian describing how “The studies published by Swansea academics have had international impact – even in Germany and Austria” and stating that “Swansea is a flagship centre for German-British cultural understanding.” Herta Müller, a Writer in Residence in 1996, returned to Swansea as a Nobel Laureate in July 2012 to receive an honorary degree instigated by Haines. Müller’s public reading (with translations) was attended by some 30 non-academics. Her visit was covered in German as well as UK media. Feridun Zaimoglu first visited in 1999, little known in Germany, and returned in 2008 as a prize-laden, controversial writer. His reading was attended by c.20 locally resident German speakers and his visit was covered by an Arte TV documentary, with much coverage of local scenery. Many writers, having visited the Centre, publish work presenting Wales to German readers, with likely benefit to the tourism industry. Forthcoming Writer in Residence Jörg Bernig has already published a novel set in Swansea; Peter Wawerzinek (2010 visitor) is working on a long prose work about Dylan Thomas, to be published for the 2014 centenary with Preece’s translation.
    • Cultivating long-term relationships with writers and/or translating their work leads to opportunities to present research to wider audiences, in the writers’ countries or the UK, e.g. at prize ceremonies or launches.  Media calls on staff cross-cultural expertise include Dr Cheesman on Shakespeare translation (blog items about TransVis), Dr Hall on crime fiction (see Case Study), Dr Haines on Herta Müller (BBC World Service radio, BBC TV World News Today, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio [USA]), Professor Large on Nietzsche (BBC radio 4), and Professor Preece on diverse topics in the TLS, Literary Review, and at the Hay Literature Festival.

PHD Project Examples

European Travellers to Wales

Anna-Lou Dijkstra, Translation Studies (2013- ), AHRC-funded project “European Travellers to Wales”

BA Utrecht (German, 2010), MA Utrecht (Translation)

I am investigating German, French and Dutch guidebooks about Wales. My preliminary research question is: How is Wales depicted in French, German and Dutch travel guidebooks through the centuries (1850-2010) and in what way do these image differ in their translations? The focus of my research will be on translations and in what way the perception of Wales differs due to translational shifts. I will concentrate on certain key time frames and topics, such as the introductory chapter, the Welsh language and the industrial South-Wales valleys.

The project is part of a £420,000 AHRC-funded project on European Travellers to Wales.  Dr Kathryn Jones is working with colleagues from Bangor University and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies to investigate European travellers to Wales in the period 1750-2010.  Until now Wales has been overlooked in the field of travel writing.  A key aim of the project is to build an extensive database of sources uncovered over the coming three years, aimed at both academic and wider audiences.  It will also compare travellers from different European countries, writing in numerous languages and at different historical periods.  The hope is to find rich and varied material which will help develop an understanding of European perceptions of Wales.

Effective translation memory recall

Kevin Flanagan, Translation Studies (2009- ), College of Arts and Humanities Studentship

'Lift' - implementing effective TM sub-segment recall

Translation Memory (TM) systems typically align segments of source texts (largely sentences) with their equivalents in target texts, storing them in a database. When a new text is being translated, the system compares new sentences with those previously translated, and where there is sufficient similarity, suggests the previous translations as possible starting points for the new translation. Suggestions based on smaller units of text typically involve use of a terminology database (TDB), such that the system looks for previously-identified terms in the new sentence and suggests their translations for use in the translated sentence.

A TM database may well contain content that could usefully be suggested to the translator of a new text, but which is not found by either of those processes. For example, a TM database may contain a sentence with a qualifying sub-clause, and a new text may contain a sentence with just the same sub-clause, but no suggestion is made by the TM system because the sub-clause constitutes (say) only 20% of the words in the sentence, and the sentence is therefore not considered sufficiently similar.

Very many translation products claim to offer more advanced sub-segment recall features. Nevertheless, as shown in my MA dissertation, these largely fall far short of the thoroughgoing approaches that have been demonstrated in academic environments. However, those demonstrations mostly indicate only potential capability, rather than providing working and usable implementations. An implementation of a prototype TM system with linguistically-informed sub-segment recall based on automatic alignment of parse trees was described in my MA dissertation, where performance metrics showed very real benefits for the translation process, without any minimum TM size requirement. That implementation only supported French and English, but used techniques that were in principle language-independent and that should allow other languages to be supported. Alongside the improved recall and high precision shown, the performance analysis identified areas where sub-segment recall was less effective, in particular when aligning pairs of non-isomorphic parse trees.

This thesis describes the implementation of a more fully-developed TM system based on those techniques, supporting English, French, Spanish and German. It presents the further research undertaken to align reliably with use of parse trees for just one of the two languages, or for none. Alignments are compared with other aligning systems, to show that results are either comparable with or superior to those systems, without the requirement for using large corpora that characterises them.

An algorithm is presented for automatic evaluation of TM sub-segment recall performance using parallel corpora. Performance statistics are provided for a variety of corpora, using a variety of parser combinations, and using none.

Supervisor: Professor Andy Rothwell

Subtitling the Taboo

Alaa Olwi, Translation Studies (2012 - ), funded by the Saudian Arabian Cultural Bureau

BA and MA San Jose State University, California (Linguistics)

 Before conducting my doctoral research, I worked as a lecturer at the college of languages and translation at Princess Nora University, Saudi Arabia, the Prince Sultan University, King Faisal University and the Girls College in Dammam, teaching courses in linguistics and English language to all undergraduate levels.  

PhD research topic is entitled ‘Subtitling the Taboo: is it a Taboo?’ and focuses on subtitling taboo expressions and terms from English into Arabic.  Some of the questions she I am tackling are:

 What are the sensitive or problematic areas that translators face when subtitling?

 Which approaches do translators and TV channels favour (Domestication or Foreignization)? When and why?

 What is the impact of the different approaches on viewers?

 Do demographics play a role in accepting or not accepting the translation or the source culture? Are age, education, knowledge of English, etc. important factors in influencing the viewers’ acceptance?

Supervisor: Dr Kat Hall

Metaphor in Herta Muller's Writing

Jenny Watson, German Studies (2012 - ), College of Arts and Humanities Studentship

BA  and MA Sheffield (German)


Metaphor, Memory and the Weight of History in the Writing of Herta Müller

Herta Müller (1953-) is a Romanian-German author who won the Nobel Prize in 2009 and has enjoyed great popularity both within and beyond the German-speaking world. Despite having lived in the country since 1987, Müller remains something of an outsider in the context of the German literary scene, possibly because of the way her works repeatedly thematise her experiences under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu. In my project, I examine Müller’s writing from the point of view of memory theory, focusing on four prose works from different periods of her career. I argue that the author is constantly interrogating and responding to processes of memory and public memory culture in Germany, Romania and beyond. Through a close reading of her literary and essayistic output I draw out themes in Müller’s work such as the remembrance of WWII, divisions in memory between Western and former communist countries, the distorting effect of examining events in hindsight and the mobilisation of memory in the form of stories for the maintenance of community cohesion. By doing this, I aim to recontextualise Müller within the ranks of authors who have also taken up these themes, particularly in the aftermath of the Second World War, and draw conclusions about what I see as her innovative approach to memory. Müller is as interested in the deep psychological effects of imagined memory as she is in the search for objective truth and justice within memory debates. She takes a transnational view of history which is responsive to the realities of globalisation and prioritises personal responses to particular events. Her tendency to compare different regimes and political situations through this focus on personal experience has earned her criticism from various quarters but represents, I believe, a progression beyond the notion of memory as an arena of competition.


Supervisor: Dr Brigid Haines