The pragmatics of style: Translating for the multimodal art exhibition space

31 May 2024
Room C1

The pragmatics of style: Translating for the multimodal art exhibition space

Museums and art galleries are not only spaces of awe and wonder. They are “contact zones” (Clifford, 1997) that have the potential to promote learning and cultural exchange. But the cultural other is not presented objectively. Displayed artefacts are not neutral – they acquire new meaning from the context in which they are placed. Objects are displayed to make visual statements, which are meant to be interpreted within the framework of their labels, and through the interaction between text, object and exhbition space (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000; Sturge, 2007). This paper analyzes the translation into Arabic of information panels and labels at the exhibition ‘Forever – Valentino’, held at the M7 art center in Doha in 2022 to pay homage to Valentino Garavani and celebrate the heritage of the Italian fashion brand, in its largest exhibition to date. Adopting a text linguistics and cross-cultural pragmatics perspective (House, 2012; House & Kádár, 2021), and guided by a functional approach to translation (Nord, 2018), this case study addresses cross-cultural communication challenges, focusing specifically on the rhetorically-motivated arrangement of linguistic elements in exhibit descriptions, and their semiotic interaction within the multimodal art gallery space. The paper highlights the importance of taking into account the semiosis of the exhibition space in translating exhibit description texts, where language and art meet, and the semantic and pragmatic content of the message becomes inseparable from its form.



Clifford, J. (1997). Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press.

Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000). Museums and Interpretation of Visual Culture. London: Routledge.

House, J. (2012). Text linguistics and translation. Handbook of translation studies3, 178-184.

House, J., & Kádár, D. Z. (2021). Cross-cultural pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nord, C. (2018). Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. New York: Routledge.

Sturge, K. (2007). Representing others. Translation, ethnography and the museum. St. Jerome.