The Tale of a Predatory Discourse
University of Lisbon, Portugal
Abstract. English academic discourse, which emerged in the 17th
century as a vehicle for the new rationalist/scientic paradigm,
was initially a vehicle of liberation from the stiing feudal mindset.
Spreading from the hard sciences to the social sciences and on
to the humanities, it gradually became the prestige discourse of
the Anglophone world, due no doubt to its associations with the
power structures of modernity (technology, industry and capital-
ism); today, mastery of it is essential for anyone wishing to play a
role on the international stage. The worldview that this discourse
encodes is essentially positivist; it privileges the referential func-
tion of language at the expense of the interpersonal or textual and
crystallizes the dynamic ux of experience into static, observable
blocs, rendering the universe passive, inert and devoid of mean-
ing. Despite its obvious limitations for dealing with a decentred,
multi-faceted, post-modern reality, its hegemonic status in the
world today is such that other knowledges are rendered invisible
or are swallowed up in a process of ‘epistemicide’. This paper
examines this process from the point of view of the translator, one
of the primary gatekeepers of western academic culture. Drawing
on surveys carried out in 2002 of Portuguese academics working
in the humanities, it attempts to discover just what happens to the
very different worldview encoded in traditional Portuguese academic
discourse during the process of translation, and goes on to discuss
the political and social consequences of the ideological imperialism
manifest in editorial decisions about what counts as ‘knowledge’
in today’s world.
Keywords. Academic discourse; translation; knowledge; scientic revolution;
anthropocentrism; paradigm shift; epistemicide
“Once upon a time, many years ago in England, a new discourse was
born. His parents were both very old at his birth, and poor, because,
although they were of illustrious lineage, they had since fallen on hard
ISSN 1355-6509 © St. Jerome Publishing, Manchester
The Translator. Volume 13, Number 2 (2007), 151-169 ISBN 978-1-905763-00-9
times. Moreover, the kingdom was ruled at that time by a tyrannical old
discourse who claimed to have been put there by God, and who cruelly
suppressed any that challenged his word. Consequently, the new baby
discourse had to be nurtured with care and in secret, for fear he would
be silenced before he was strong enough to fend for himself.
With time, however, he grew strong and tall and began to gather
supporters. He organized forays against the tyrannical king in the name
of justice, freedom and equality, and gradually started to gain control
of territories in the land. The old ruler was eventually overcome and
went into exile abroad, where he could do no more harm. The young
discourse found himself in control of the country ...”
As we can see, the subject matter that I wish to broach in this paper does not
necessarily have to be presented in the conventional academic way. Indeed,
with its clear chronological development, elements of suspense, and the moral
twist that will surely come at the end, the topic lends itself particularly well
to the kind of narrative treatment that we might associate with the fairy tale
or parable. However, no researcher in their right mind would dream of seri-
ously submitting a tale like this to an academic journal such as The Translator
without at least signalling their awareness of the irregularity, as I have done,
with distancing devices such as inverted commas and italics. For such journals,
and the scholars who read them, have very clear cut expectations as to how
the fruits of academic endeavour should be presented. Guidelines are provided
for contributors to ensure that they keep within accepted style parameters,
and there is a team of referees and editors on hand to exclude any that do not
make the mark. Consequently, authors who fail to comply run the risk of being
considered incompetent and scientically illiterate.
Yet knowledge has not always been congured in the same way as it is
today. Until a few centuries ago in Western culture, and still today in many
others, the narrative form, alongside others which we today associate with
‘literary’ rather than ‘factual’ genres, was considered a perfectly valid way
of transmitting the collective wisdom of a community. It was only after the
Enlightenment, with its elevation of reason at the expense of the emotions,
and with the growing status of the natural sciences, that a split took place
between Fact and Fiction and literary forms were deprived of any ‘cognitive
authority’ (White 1997:23). Thus began the reign of the discourse that Venuti
(1995:5) calls the ‘authoritative plain style’, the predatory discourse of my
title and the one employed routinely by academics and, more pertinently, by
academic translators across the English-speaking world.
Today, this discourse is not used for academic writing alone but for
factual writing of any kind. Indeed, it is so entirely ubiquitous and so appar-
ently transparent that most people who have been brought up in Anglophone
culture do not even notice it is there. As White (1997:22) has pointed out,
prociency in it is felt to constitute basic literacy and is essential for success
Karen Bennett 153
in many walks of life. Consequently, the teaching of it is lucrative business.
Courses in academic writing for undergraduates and foreigners are offered in
almost all institutions of higher education; style manuals are churned out by
the thousand; and some countries have even introduced literacy programmes
designed to foster such skills in primary schools.
Yet, while the hegemony of this discourse seems, if anything, to be consoli-
dating, its claims to be structurally and historically the only appropriate vehicle
for knowledge in the modern world have started to be seriously challenged.
Far from reecting reality in a plain, unprejudiced way, its neutrality has been
shown to be linguistically construed (Halliday 1998, 1993b, Ding 1998, Mar-
tin 1989, 1993a, 1993b, Wignell 1998, among others), and its aspirations to
universalism have been undermined by historical studies that describe how it
developed in a particular social context to full a particular purpose (Atkinson
1998, Halliday 1993a, 1993c, Ding 1998, etc.).1 Moreover, as Swales (1990:22)
has pointed out, the whole notion of ‘discourse’ and ‘discourse community’ is
a circular one; the community is dened as those who share certain discourse
habits and functions, while skill in the prescribed discourse is a prerequisite
for being taken seriously by the discourse community. Academic discourse is
thus revealed, from the outset, to be a self-referential self-justicatory practice
that determines what may legitimately be considered as knowledge, as Kress
(1988:7) has argued:
Discourses are systematically-organised sets of statements which give
expression to the meanings and values of an institution. Beyond that,
they dene, describe and delimit what it is possible to say and not pos-
sible to say … with respect to the area of concern of that institution,
whether marginally or centrally. A discourse provides a set of possible
statements about a given area, and organizes and gives structure to the
manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about.
In that it provides descriptions, rules, permissions and prohibitions of
social and individual actions.
Discourses thus encode ideology. They encapsulate a particular vision of the
world in their very structure and determine what may be thought and said by
the communities using them. Their aim is ultimately totalitarian (ibid.):
A metaphor which I use to explain the effects of discourse to myself
is that of a military power whose response to border skirmishes is to
occupy the adjacent territory. As problems continue, more territory is
occupied, then settled and colonized. A discourse colonises the social
world imperialistically, from the point of view of one institution.
1 Other challenges to the truth claims of science have come from the sociology of science,
ethnomethodology, semiotics, etc. See Potter (1996) for an overview.
When the discourse in question is a vehicle of knowledge, as is the one we
are studying here, then the kind of territorial expansion that Kress describes
amounts to ‘epistemicide’. This sounds nasty – and indeed it is, as we realize
when we stop to think about it. For the way that a particular culture formu-
lates its knowledge is intricately bound up with the very identity of its people,
their way of making sense of the world and the value system that holds that
worldview in place. Epistemicide, as the systematic destruction of rival forms
of knowledge, is at its worst nothing less than symbolic genocide.
The term ‘epistemicide’ was coined by the Portuguese sociologist Boaven-
tura de Sousa Santos in his General Introduction to the multi-volume project
Reinventing Social Emancipation. Toward New Manifestos (2005) to describe
one of the more pernicious effects of globalization upon developing countries.
However, we do not have to go as far aeld as the Third World to nd evidence
of epistemicide. It is committed every day even within the boundaries of Eu-
rope, as this paper is designed to show. And it is we, the translators operating
at the interface of cultures, who are responsible for dealing with those ‘border
skirmishes’ that Kress so eloquently describes. To complete his metaphor, we
are the border police, parading up and down with our guns and our dogs, and
casting harsh spotlights into the linguistic foliage to ush out any unwanted
ideology that might be trying to slip in unseen.
Epistemicide works in a number of ways. Knowledges that are grounded
on an ideology that is radically different from the dominant one (as in the
case of many of the Third World knowledges that Boaventura foregrounds)
will by and large be silenced completely. They will be starved of funding, if
the hegemonic power controls that aspect (and in the European Union this is
increasingly the case); they will remain unpublished, since their very form
will be unrecognizable to the editors of journals and textbooks; and they
are unable to be taught in schools and universities, thus ensuring their rapid
decline into oblivion.
Knowledges that are not so distant as to warrant automatic annihilation,
having some historical or cultural overlap with the dominant one, are instead
bullied or cajoled into an acceptable shape. This is where the translator comes
in. Our job is, essentially, to present the alien knowledge in a form that will
enable it to be assimilated into one or another of the ready-made categories
existing for the purpose, which means ensuring that it is properly structured,
that it makes use of the appropriate terminology and tropes – in short, couch-
ing it in the accepted discourse.2
It is when the underlying ideology of the original is very different from the
2 This process has been extensively explored by translation theorists since the 1970s. For
example, Toury (1978) and Lefevere (1985) describe how translation choices are inevitably
conditioned by ideological and material constraints operating within the target culture, while
Evan-Zohar (1979, 1990) discusses how these are affected by the ever-shifting balance of
power within the polysystem.
Karen Bennett 155
dominant one that the process of translation may be said to be epistemicidal.
This is, to my mind, the situation that takes place in countries like Portugal and
Spain on a daily basis. The knowledge that is produced in the humanities in these
countries is, I believe, congured quite differently from English discourse in
similar elds. Consequently, the process of making a text suitable for publica-
tion in the English-speaking world often involves not only the elimination of
characteristic lexical features and ornament, but also the complete destruction
and reconstruction of the entire infrastructure of the text, with far-reaching
consequences as regards the worldview encoded in it.
The process may be illustrated with Example 1, the rst paragraph of a
musicology article, which was submitted to me for translation in 2006 with a
view to publication in an English-language specialist journal. A literal, inter-
linear translation is given to assist the reader:
Example 1: From ‘Representação Gráca como Manifestação de
Estilo’ by Vasco Negreiros: original and literal translation
Diante de quem o lê ou escreve, o termo ‘estilo’ rasga um vertiginoso
Before anyone that reads or writes it, the term ‘style’ tears a vertigi-
nous open eld.
Isto dever-se-á tanto ao facto de envolver uma quantidade ilimitada
This is due both to the fact of involving an unlimited quantity of data
não passíveis de uma organização inteiramente satisfatória,
not susceptible to completely satisfactory organization
na perspectiva do musicólogo, como, na do intérprete,
in the perspective of the musicologist, as, in that of the performer,
por despertar, enquanto ‘palavra-faísca’, intensas lembranças
by arousing, as ‘spark-word’, intense memories
de experiências contrastantes na sua trajectória musical e pessoal.
of contrasting experiences in his/her personal musical trajectory.
Para tal, o músico toma como referência não só a prática de repertório
For this, the musician takes as references not only the practice of
e a literatura especializada que conhece, como também a sua ob-
and the specialized literature that s/he knows, but also his/her obser-
outras modalidades de arte e até de vivências
other forms of art and even of experiences
não exclusivamente ligadas ao ofício artístico,
not exclusively connected to the artistic craft,
ainda que muitas vezes a revelação daí advinda se cinja unicamente
although many times the revelation that comes from this is only
à perturbação de certezas anteriores, reacendendo o processo,
to the perturbance of previous certainties, rekindling the process,
inserido-o numa busca inndável à procura dos estilos
inserted into an endless quest – in search of styles
e da sua relação com cada um, ou até do estilo próprio, no caso do
and his/her relation with each one, or even an own style, in the case
of the composer
sendo esta uma trajectória individual e intransferível, ainda que
this trajectory being individual and untransferrable, although
Despite the fact that the text as a whole is a largely analytical discussion of
the effects produced by different kinds of musical notation and describes an
entirely tangible experiment in graphic reproduction, the discourse used in
this introduction clearly subscribes to a neo-romantic idealistic view of the
creative process. Terms such as ‘word-spark’, ‘rekindle’, ‘revelation’, ‘end-
less quest’, etc., evoke Romantic discourse on divine inspiration, while even
relatively banal notions are expressed in emotionally violent language (eg.
‘tears open’; ‘vertiginous’, ‘arousing intense memories’).
The syntax is also anything but clear and linear, with a sprouting of subor-
dination that dees translation into a language like English. The last sentence
in particular illustrates very well the Portuguese tendency to cultivate verbal
foliage that, to English eyes, only obscures the main trunk of the argument.
The translation, therefore, does not merely replace one chain of signiers in
Karen Bennett 157
Portuguese with another in English. In order to make this text acceptable within
the target discourse, I have had to undertake some quite serious alterations
that have repercussions on the underlying ideology.
Example 1a: ‘Graphic Representation as a Manifestation of Style’ by
Vasco Negreiros: English translation
To anyone using it, the term ‘style’ is a bewilderingly broad concept.
For the musicologist, it is not easy to categorize and measure; while,
for the musician, it is likely to be associated with intense personal
memories of different situations experienced over the course of a
musical career. The musician gets around the problem in performance
by relying on current practice and specialist literature concerning the
repertoire in question, and also possibly by consulting other art forms,
including those that are not exclusively artistic – even though the effect
of this may be merely to unsettle any previous preconceptions he or
she once had and stimulate further quest.
The amboyant emotive terms of the original have mostly been replaced
by more matter-of-fact equivalents, while familiar-sounding collocations from
the target discourse (‘broad concept’; ‘not easy to categorize and measure’;
‘current practice’; ‘unsettle preconceptions’, etc.) have been introduced in
order to assimilate the text to target discourse expectations. As regards the
syntax, the last sentence has been quite radically pruned in order to make the
argument more linear, and elsewhere the information has been reorganized in
the interests of clarity and cohesion. In places, connections have been made
more explicit by the introduction of new elements.
Example 2 below, an abstract in the area of architecture, is also gram-
matically alien to English academic discourse but in a different way from
Example 1. Instead of an elaborate syntax heavy with subordination, this
text asserts its poeticality with short verbless sentences that are deliberately
elliptical. It also maintains suspense by deferring any mention of location or
purpose for several paragraphs:
Example 2: Abstract – ‘Architecture’: Original and literal translation
Lugar mágico, paisagem grandiosa sobre a Foz do Tejo, Lisboa, as
pontes e as margens.
Magical place, magnicent landscape over the mouth of the Tagus,
Lisbon, the bridges and the banks.
Entre cidades sim, no sentido geográco do termo e mais precisa-
Between cities yes, in the geographical sense of the term and more
precisely in the
sentido morfogenético do mesmo entre a cidade «em movimento»
que é Lisboa e
morphogenetic sense of the same between the city “in movement”
that is Lisbon and
a cidade emergente que é Almada. Mas sobretudo entre cidades
the emerging city that is Almada. But above all between cities
no seu sentido mais profundo e só aparentemente oculto.
in its deeper and only apparently occult sense.
The translation in Example 2a therefore lls in the gaps by introducing verbs
and linking the clauses in a more conventional way. The place is also explicitly
identied right at the beginning, which makes the discourse more concrete
and less poetic:
Example 2a: ‘Architecture’: Translation
Almaraz is a magical place, with a magnicent landscape that extends
over the mouth of the Tagus and across Lisbon, its bridges and river
banks. It is located between cities, not only geographically, but also
in the morphogenetic sense of being between the city ‘in movement’
that is Lisbon and the emerging city that is Almada. But it is also
between cities in a much deeper sense, a sense that it is only appar-
In both of these cases, therefore, the Portuguese text has been substantially
altered in order to bring it into line with the norms of the equivalent discourse
in English. The alterations were necessary because the texts would not have
been comprehensible to the English reader otherwise, and as such would not
be acceptable for publication in an English language journal. However, dur-
ing the process of domestication the underlying ideological framework has
been largely abolished, to be replaced by the positivist structure inherent to
English academic discourse. It is this that allows us to consider this process
“…The old discourse, whom the young pretender had usurped, had
believed wholeheartedly in the value and power of the human spirit.
This was not surprising, as his father’s ancestors had been Scholastics,
who spent all their time poring over the scriptures, while his mother,
Karen Bennett 159
Rhetoric, had inherited from her own family a great respect for words.
Indeed, for this old king, the only knowledge worth having lay in words,
which he believed to be divine. And it was clear that not everyone could
master their secrets. Many long years of training in Latin grammar,
rhetoric and dialectic were required before a man could even begin
to consider himself knowledgeable. So the lower classes, who could
not even write their own language, let alone Latin, had necessarily
to be told what to believe by the priests and friars – the old discourse
was quite sure of that!.
However, at the time our young discourse was born, new ideas were
starting to come into the country from abroad and were stirring up
unrest. These new ideas said that God was in everyone, that men were
therefore equal, and could learn for themselves and that they didn’t
need the priests to explain it all to them. There were murmurs in some
quarters that in fact all the learned words of the old discourse were
mere gobbledygook, designed to keep the people enthralled, and that
they could learn more about the world by observing what they saw
before their very eyes than by studying ancient texts.
Also, at around the same time, some of the common people had
started to get rich through trade and they were keen to educate their
children. They needed someone to defend their interests against the
old king, who kept the power and the wealth and the knowledge in the
hands of his aristocratic relatives.
And so they rallied around the new young discourse, who be-
came their hero, championing their cause against the corrupt old
English academic discourse emerged out of the scientic paradigm that rst
began to take shape in England in the 17th century (Halliday 1993a), gradu-
ally spreading to the social sciences and humanities over the course of the
next three hundred years (Wignell 1998, Halliday and Martin 1993:16). The
‘scientic revolution’, as it has come to be known, represented a major shift
in attitudes and values. For not only did the focus of knowledge pass from
man’s symbolic systems to the outside world, a whole new methodological
approach of induction (combining the rational and the empirical) gradually
took over from the Aristotelian system of deduction, which had been the basis
of university education until then. The copious eloquence and elegant rhetoric
valued by the Christian humanists now fell out of fashion, and instead a terse
plain style was cultivated as the only appropriate vehicle for the new knowl-
edge (no doubt reecting the Protestant distrust of ornament and symbols as
much as their desire to discover the truth about the world around them).3
3 Although it is not easy to determine which came rst, social or ideological change, the
Protestant Reformation, with its doctrine of ‘the priesthood of all believers’, was clearly an
The rst stirrings in this direction can perhaps be traced back to Francis
Bacon, who, in The Advancement of Learning (1605), argued against the ten-
dency of the scholastics to ‘study words and not matter’. However, the linguist
Michael Halliday (1993a:57) locates the true birth of scientic discourse in
the writings of Isaac Newton, in which processes were systematically recon-
strued as things for the rst time, chiey by means of the linguistic device of
nominalization. This had the ideologically signicant result of transforming
subjective dynamic experience into static objective fact by the effective re-
moval of the observer, a process reinforced by the appearance of the passive
at around the same time (see Ding 1998). Thus, with these two resources a
framework was established for the transmission and propagation of a positivist
philosophy, which would gradually replace the old anthropocentric theory of
knowledge in the English speaking world.
With the growing status of the natural sciences, the new kind of impersonal
discourse acquired prestige and began to spread to other areas. Its associations
with the bourgeoisie, which in the 17th century was the social class in the
ascendancy, also linked it rmly to the structures of wealth and power in the
new social conguration. Thus began the process of colonization of other
disciplines, beginning with the social sciences (Wignell 1998), and moving
on to all areas of knowledge in western society, even to less tangible domains
like literature and art criticism.
Today it has become what Halliday (1993b:84) calls ‘the discourse of
modernity’, used whenever factuality is asserted and authority claimed. And
although numerous internal differences exist between disciplines and genres
– as has been pointed out by descriptive linguists such as Hyland (2000),
Swales (1990) and Flowerdew (2002:29) – there is clearly a common structure
and ideology underlying them all, as becomes obvious when we take a step
backwards to view these texts from outside our culture. Indeed, the hundreds
of style manuals currently on the market for foreign students and undergradu-
ates are remarkably consistent as regards the precepts they transmit, revealing
very little disciplinary variation.4 These therefore can provide a framework for
important factor in promoting the paradigm shift that we have come to know as the Scientic
Revolution. Robert Merton (1970/2001), the sociologist/historian of science, argues in a
seminal text that science, like capitalism (with which it has always been closely associ-
ated) had its roots in Puritanism, a fact which may well explain the continuing emphasis
on clarity and plainness in academic discourse.
4 This claim is based upon a review of the style manuals available at a Birmingham book
store, undertaken in 2004. Cf. for example: Fairburn, Gavin and Christopher Winch (1996)
Reading, Writing and Reasoning: A Guide for Students, Open University Press; Cottrell,
Stella (2003) The Study Skills Handbook, Palgrave Study Guides; Hennessy, Brendan
(2002) Writing an Essay, How To Books Ltd; Barrass, Robert (1996) Students Must Write,
Routledge; Oliver, Paul (1996) Writing Essays and Reports, Hodder & Staughton; Pirie,
David (1985) How to Write a Critical Essay, Routledge.
Karen Bennett 161
claims about the general principles underlying English academic discourse.
These principles may be summed up as follows: the discourse needs to be
above all clear and coherent, and based upon a structured rational argument
supported by evidence; the language should be generally impartial and objec-
tive, with fact clearly distinguished from opinion, and there should be general
caution and restraint about all claims made; current theory will be incorporated
through citation and referencing. The text should be organized into sections
with a clear introduction, development and conclusion, each of which should
be subdivided into paragraphs, and there will be a hierarchical organization on
all these levels (general statement of theme, followed by development, etc).
In terms of style, the prose should be lucid, economical and precise, avoid-
ing vagueness, verbosity and circumlocution, and will make use of complete
sentences with straightforward syntax. Impersonal structures, such as the pas-
sive and nominalized forms, will predominate in many disciplines, and there
will be an absence of gurative language (though this is less marked in the
humanities), allowing the focus to fall rmly upon the object of study. There
will also be a predominance of material or existential processes,5 reecting a
preoccupation with statements of fact and descriptions of actions.
Portuguese, in contrast, has no hegemonic academic discourse that can be
said to cover all production of knowledge.6 The discourse of the hard sciences
is essentially calqued from the English (it is the same in all respects, ranging
from text structure and syntax to technical terminology), but, as we move
across the social sciences to the humanities, we start to notice a change. The
style becomes more elaborate, less transparent, increasingly difcult to read
(by Anglo Saxon standards); the vocabulary becomes rich and literary, and
we start to see the appearance of gures of speech which, to the English eye,
would perhaps be more appropriate in literary genres. When we reach the ex-
treme end of the spectrum, in literary and cultural studies, art or architecture,
the prose is frequently so different from the English that translation within
the genre becomes well nigh impossible.
The following extract (a work of literary criticism about the essays of
Eduardo Lourenço, taken from a reputable Portuguese journal) is a particularly
good example of this more extreme style. Clarity of exposition and logical
5 In Systemic Functional Grammar, Material Processes are basically verbs of Doing, involv-
ing an Actor that interacts with the material world, while Existential Processes represent
something that exists or happens (as in ‘there is’ constructions). These may be contrasted
with Behavioural, Mental, Verbal and Relational Processes (for a full description, see
6 Academic discourse is not systematically taught in Portuguese, and until very recently,
the only style manuals that existed were concerned with ‘literary’ writing or traditional
rhetoric. As regards available models, Portuguese academic journals publish a wide range of
styles (even within a single publication or issue), no doubt reecting the various conicting
epistemological inuences on the culture, as described below.
reasoning are clearly not objectives here, for the text revels in ambiguity,
deliberately setting up paradoxes and analogical relations and using language
in a non-referential way. The syntax is highly complex, with a meandering
main clause that is constantly being interrupted by circumstantial informa-
tion; and there is also a high degree of abstraction that is scarcely digestible
by the English language (eg. ‘tragicity’, ‘Portugalness’; ‘messianity’). There
are also very few of the material processes that are so predominant in English
academic prose, and instead most are relational or existential.7
Example 3. Varela, M.H. (2000) ‘Rasura e reinvenção do trágico no
pensamento português e brasileiro. Do ensaísmo lúdico ao ensaísmo
trágico’, in Revista Portuguesa de Humanidades 4 (UCP, Braga).
Original and literal translation.
O ensaísmo trágico de Lourenço, [sic] parece em parte decorrer da sua
própria tragicidade de ensaísta, malgré lui,
Lourenço’s tragic essayism seems in part to arise out of his own tragic-
ity as an essayest, ‘malgré lui’,
como se esta posição de metaxu do pensamento português, entre o
mythos e logos, projectada no papel do crítico
as if this position of ‘metaxu’ of Portuguese thought, between ‘mythos’
and ‘logos’, projected onto the role of critic
que tragicamente parece assumir, entre o sistema impossível e a poiesis
estéril, o guindasse para um lugar / não lugar
which he tragically seems to assume, between the impossible system
and the sterile ‘poiesis’, hoists him to a place / non-place
de indecibilidade trágica, ao mesmo tempo que, inserido no fechamento
de um pensar saudoso, na clausura
of tragic undecidability, at the same time as, inserted into the closure
of a yearning thought, in the connement
de uma historicidade lomitista, mais do que logocêntrica, se debate
na paradoxia de uma portugalidade sem mito,
of a philomitist historicity, more than logocentric, struggles in the
paradoxalness of a Portugalness without myth,
atada à pós-história de si mesmo, simultaneamente dentro e fora
bound to the post-history of itself, simultaneously inside and out-
7 This passage was analyzed in detail in Bennett (2006).
Karen Bennett 163
Dening the boundaries of this academic discourse is made difcult by
the fact that it is not systematically taught nor has been the object of any
kind of linguistic analysis. However, the prestige that it clearly enjoys in the
home culture belies any facile assumption that it is merely decient writing.
A vast number of published examples of it exist in Portuguese journals, and
an oral version, full of rhetorical ourishes, can frequently be heard in lecture
halls across the country. The responses I received to a survey of Portuguese
researchers in the humanities undertaken in 20028 also conrmed that the
Portuguese perceive this to be a separate discourse with distinct character-
istics in relation to English. Ninety-one per cent of respondents claimed to
consciously alter their discourse when writing for publication in English and
described English academic prose as more succinct, logical and linear; more
oriented to the outside world; more objective; clearer and less verbose, and
plainer in terms of diction.
The reasons for these differences become clear when we remember that
the Scientic Revolution did not take place uniformly around the globe. In the
Catholic countries of southern Europe, the scholastic tradition was maintained
long after it had been overturned in the Protestant countries of the north; and in
Spain and Portugal in particular, education systems controlled by Jesuits and
feudal pre-industrial economies maintained by conservative political regimes
ensured that Enlightenment values never really took hold. This meant that the
old anthropocentric worldview was able to persist for much longer.
Knowledge, understood as philosophy, was thus to be found in words, the
tools of the soul. Verbal abundance and linguistic complexity were valued as
signs of inner worth,9 and knowledgeable texts were expected to be beautiful
artifacts, rather than transparent windows onto some outer reality. A certain
obscurantism may also have been cultivated for political reasons, as Timmer-
mans (2002:214) points out, since one of the main purposes of this prose was
often to “impress and impose” (ibid.:218),10 a dimension that was particularly
evident in conservative Catholic circles from the 19th century and during the
fascist regimes of the 20th.
8 The questionnaire was sent to all researchers listed as members of national research
centres in the areas of the humanities and social sciences by the Foundation of Science and
Technology (www.fct.mct.pt), the body responsible for funding research work in Portugal.
537 questionnaires were sent out electronically and 156 responses were received in the
following elds: Anthropology, Architecture, Economics, Education, Geography, History,
Linguistics, Literary Studies, Musicology, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Other
(this latter category corresponded to people from more scientic elds who, for some
reason, were listed as working in these areas).
9 In the Classically-inspired Christian humanist tradition, language was perceived as a
civilizing force, a God-given faculty, which could move men to virtue and bring about
peace, justice and liberty. Hence, eloquence was cultivated as an educational discipline
and literary ideal.
10 Bourdieu and Passeron (1965, 1994:19-20) make a similar point about French academic
It is not surprising, then, that traces of this tradition are still to be seen
in the linguistic attitudes and discourse habits of many scholars operating in
the humanities today. Since the rupture between fact and ction never really
happened here, as it did in the Anglo-Saxon world, academic writing in the
humanities has continued to promote a more holistic view of knowledge,
one in which subjectivity is actively promoted rather than suppressed and in
which the emotional response plays as much of a part as rational argument
and close observation. Indeed, writing is largely viewed as an art, rather than
as a mechanical skill, and therefore often appears to be endowed with a kind
of sacred aura (proportional to the status of its author) that discourages critical
analysis or stylistic tampering. Hence, journals in these elds rarely indulge
in the kind of extensive editing of articles that is common in the Anglophone
world, nor do we see much systematic dissection of texts in subjects such as
Literary Studies or History; instead, a literary work may be used (as in the
above extract) as a starting point for further philosophical reection, which
will itself be presented in abundant owing poetic prose in which meanings
are not controlled in the interests of clarity but proliferate profusely.
This is not to say that the scientic paradigm was without its champions in
Portugal and Spain. Associated as it was with the values of socialism, liberal-
ism and positivism, it has historically drawn its supporters from the political
left and represented a modernizing tendency in a highly religious and con-
servative society. Consequently, the plain objective discourse associated with
it is perceived by many as a tool of democracy and progress and cultivated as
a way of achieving these political ideals.
There are others in Portuguese society, however, that resent the hegemony
of English in the world and view the encroachment of the scientic paradigm as
a form of cultural imperialism. Without necessarily subscribing to reactionary
politics, they often experience the rationalization and objectivization of real-
ity as a kind of reductionism that is inadequate to explain the complexities of
human experience. This was clearly revealed by some of the responses to my
survey, in which English academic discourse was described as ‘less elegant’
or ‘less rened’ than Portuguese, with a ‘rigid structure’ and ‘impoverished
vocabulary’. One sociologist was particularly damning: “English discourse is
impoverished and dogmatic. The questions raised at the outset are simplistic,
and formulated in such a way as to require a YES/NO type of response, based
upon mathematical models that tell us very little about reality. This is how they
legitimize their science, grounding it in the logic of positivism”.
“Once the young discourse had seized power in England and sent the
old king away into exile, he started to gain more condence. He helped
his people to become rich and powerful, and they rewarded him with
their loyalty and support. He gradually became convinced that he
Karen Bennett 165
himself was in possession of the truth about men and things.
This feeling grew so strong in him that after a while, he started to
think that he had a mission to enlighten the poor benighted creatures
in foreign lands, who pledged allegiance to other kings. Thus, he set
about organizing a series of crusades overseas. These were remarkably
successful, for by now he was very rich and powerful, and the subjects
of other nations were in awe of his wealth and wanted to partake of it.
He had no difculty in winning over a large part of the world, which
voluntarily came and bowed at his feet, begging to be granted entry
into his kingdom.
But some of these new subjects that kneeled before him still bore the
vestments and insignia of the old king, the one he had usurped, while
others were garbed in strange attire of the kind he had never seen
before. Hence, he laid down the law; to gain access to his kingdom
and all the wealth and glory that was therein, newcomers must don
the local apparel or be turned away at the gates.
Some protested that this was an unjust law. But our discourse truly
believed that his word was right and good, and so he began to sys-
tematically suppress all who refused to obey. In the name of freedom
and justice, he set about destroying all opposition...”
One of the most salient facts that emerged from the survey of Portuguese
academics I undertook in 2002 was the profound need that they feel to pub-
lish their work abroad. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents had already
published in English, and most of those who had not voluntarily offered an
explanation as to why (e.g. still a junior researcher; works with languages
other than English, etc.).
Almost all those who had already published in English claimed to take
account to some extent of the differences between the discourse habits when
preparing their original versions; that is to say, they systematically practised a
form of self-censorship before their text even got into the hands of the transla-
tor. They were generally aware of the ideological signicance of the alterations
made, but accepted the situation in order to further their own academic career
– or even favoured it on the grounds of increased rigour.11
As for those more extreme examples of Portuguese discourse (such as the
extract in Example 3), which are clearly committed to a completely different
scholarly tradition, these are unlikely to get translated into English at all, unless
at the behest of a Portuguese journal or institution.12 Portuguese academics are
11 It should be pointed out that many of the researchers questioned in fact used positively-
charged adjectives such as ‘depurado’ ‘expurgado’ (‘puried’, ‘cleansed’, ‘purged’) to
describe English academic discourse and made comments such as “it obliges us to think
more clearly”; “I cannot hide in a forest of language as I do in Portuguese”).
12 A certain amount of English translation that takes place in Portugal is solicited and
nanced by Portuguese institutions that wish to attract a wider audience for their own
today sufciently aware of what is going on beyond the boundaries of their
country to hesitate before submitting a text to a journal for which it is radically
unsuitable; instead, they may attempt to publish it in Brazil, or, in some cases,
have it translated into Spanish or French, which are not only linguistically
closer but also share a similar epistemological tradition.
The normalizing tendency of English academic discourse and its deter-
mination to extinguish all rivals is thus all too clear. But the extent of the
phenomenon becomes even more obvious if we take a look at the various
English-language journals on the market devoted to Portuguese language and
culture, which, in Portugal, is the area of study most immune to English inu-
ence. What is immediately clear from a perusal of journals such as Portuguese
Studies (Department of Portuguese, King’s College, London), Portuguese
Literary and Cultural Studies (Centre for Portuguese Studies and Culture,
University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth) or the E-Journal of Portuguese
is that contributors are clearly expected to present their articles in impeccable
English academic style.
So, even though the subject matter is Portuguese and most of the con-
tributors and editors are too, the traditional Portuguese way of conguring
knowledge has been quite spectacularly extinguished in these journals. Lured
by the prospect of an international readership and the prestige that comes from
publishing abroad, the authors of these articles have voluntarily agreed to col-
laborate with the hegemonic power in repackaging their culture for foreign
consumption. In doing so, they are unwittingly silencing their own collective
voice. That is the real tragedy of epistemicide.
So how does the story end?
I’m afraid, dear Reader, I do not know, for it hasn’t ended yet. Our
discourse is today very rich and powerful, and he controls most of
the western world. Many people from other parts of the globe are
dazzled by him and so he attracts new supporters every day, who
want to partake of his power and wealth. But he has lost supporters
too, people who have become disillusioned with his methods and his
There have started to be murmurs in some quarters that his words
do not mean much any more, that they are gobbledygook designed to
keep people in thrall. Others are angry that he has trampled all over
the human spirit and installed a regime that cares about nothing save
money and material possessions.
And so around the boundaries of his kingdom, small groups of
publications. In this kind of situation, there is clearly less need to adapt the text to the norms
of the target culture, and the translation is likely to be much more source-text oriented.
Karen Bennett 167
protesters are mobilizing, some of them in the name of the god that
he denounced so many years ago, others with different agendas. They
don’t yet have the strength to mount a serious attack against him and
are reduced to guerrilla tactics on the fringes of his empire. But they
are growing stronger by the day…
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