Martha Cheung Award 2024 Winner and Two Runners Up

The SISU Baker Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2024 Martha Cheung Award is Dr. Trask Roberts, Kent State University, US, for his article entitled ‘Evoking Pure Narrative in La Chanson de Roland’s Laisses Similaires’, published in Exemplaria Medieval, Early Modern, Theory, 34/2 (2023).

 Dr. Roberts offers a theoretically rich rereading of the famed laisses similaires of the Oxford manuscript of La Chanson de Roland to highlight how contradictory elements such as emotions, actions and dialogue stubbornly resist being smoothed away in order to achieve conventional narrative harmony. These laisses similaires, successive retellings of presumably the same event in different words, occur at several key moments in the text and have attracted scholarly attention for their particularity and confounding nature. Winding his way from the work of Barbara Cassin on untranslatability and Rita Copeland’s concept of ‘accidents of translation’ to Walter Benjamin’s seminal ‘Task of the Translator’, Roberts convincingly argues that the laisses similaires evoke ‘pure narrative’, which he defines based on Benjamin’s concept of reine Sprache  (pure language). Roberts adapts Walter Benjamin’s concept of pure language — which proposes that through their intersections and totality, languages tangentially approach a language free from the burden of signifying — from the context of translation to narrative theory, positing an analogous term: pure narrative. Laisses similaires are thus treated as types of translations for an inexistent, and impossible, original. Just as all idioms gesture towards, without arriving at, pure language, no one laisse expresses pure narrative. Ultimately, he argues that “just as Benjamin’s pure language is not one that means, the laisses similaires point to a narrative that does not narrate”.

Runners up

Two further submissions have been deemed by reviewers and the Award Committee to be of outstanding quality and therefore deserve mention as runners up. The first runner up is Dr. Yan Jia, Peking University, China, who was also runner up in 2021 with an article entitled ‘Trans-Asian Popular Aesthetics: The reception of Hindi popular fiction in 1980s China’. The second runner up is Dr. Lydia Hayes-Harris, University of Leeds, University College London, ZOO Digital, UK.

Dr. Jia’s article, entitled ‘‘Eastern Literature’ as Happenstance? Re-reading Indian Literature in 1980s Chinese Magazines’, appeared in the Journal of World Literature 8/2 (2023). It focuses on the publication of translated Indian literature in Chinese popular literary journals from the 1980s to the early 2000s. More specifically, it examines how ‘Eastern literature’ was perceived and presented in the making of world literature in 1980s China, an era of political and cultural opening up, through the lens of Indian literature included in the magazine Shijie Wenxue. Although the magazine’s editors discursively championed the idea of geographic all inclusiveness, the larger conjuncture brought ‘Western literature’ to the forefront of attention. ‘Eastern’ authors and texts, in contrast, were confined to a state of ‘happenstance’, due to the occasional manner of their presentation. However, by re-reading Shijie Wenxue on three levels, the author argues that the magazine managed to produce a relatively eclectic and ‘thick’ knowledge of Indian literature, which would have otherwise been neglected because of its tokenistic appearance and low visibility. Adopting a more creative and critical mode of reading, it is possible to turn the seemingly Western-centric project of Shijie Wenxue into a useful archive for readers with a special interest in ‘Eastern literature’.

The article by Dr. Lydia Hayes-Harris, entitled ‘English Dubs: Why are anglophone viewers receptive to English dubbing on streaming platforms and to foreign-accent strategies?’, appeared in Íkala: Revista de lenguaje y cultura28/2 (2023). Accents are often used in fictional audiovisual products to contribute to the creation of a particular character identity. This strategy relies on the typical association between a particular set of cultural connotations and a given accent within a specific language community. However, the author questions the assumption of a coherent, stable language community today. In the age of streaming platforms, and at the rate the localization industry has been creating subtitles and revoiced versions, the target audience for many products has become multilingual. The English ‘dubbing revolution’, pioneered by streaming giant Netflix, depicts the broadening of target audiences in global distribution clearly. The article focuses in particular on the popularly termed ‘foreignization’ strategy, as it features in English dubs. The strategy is explored in relation to the novelty of (English) dubbing for most viewers as well as the ubiquity of foreign varieties of English in everyday life in the Anglosphere and, consequently, in English-language original fiction. The analysis offers theoretical insights into the unique acceptance of English dubbing in general, and of foreign accents as a dubbing strategy in particular. The case of the Castilian-Spanish dubbing industry is explored for contrastive purposes, elucidating the characteristics of (im)mature dubbing audiences: their habits, preferences and (in)flexibility. The conclusions present a set of hypotheses that provide plausible answers to the questions posed in the article’s title.

As in previous installments of the Award, the Committee will attempt to gain permission from publishers to provide open access copies of all three articles on the website of the Centre. A further circular with relevant links will be sent out in due course.

For further information on the Martha Cheung Award, visit Martha Cheung Award
For further information on the Winners 2024, visit Winners 2024
March 2024
On behalf of the SISU Centre and the Award Committee
Robert Neather, Chair of Award Committee