Why Do Cultural Mediators Play a Vital Role in an Increasingly Linked and Varied World?

What is a cultural mediator? Or who is a mediator? Common European Framework of Reference for Languages says that  the mediator is “the language user not concerned to express his/her own meanings, but simply to act as an intermediary between interlocutors who are unable to understand each other directly –normally (but not exclusively) speakers of different languages”.

The communicative goal of such events is to enhance communication among people or to assist them in resolving a specific circumstance (conflict, difficulty, etc.) that necessitates a deeper comprehension of anything spoken or written. In this case a mediator should act as:

  • a social actor that observes the evolution of interaction and intervenes when some sort of intervention is necessary to aid the communicative process and/or impact the outcome
  • a facilitator in social conjunctures during which two or more parties interacting are experiencing a communication mishap or when there is a communication gap between them
  • a negotiator working as a meaning-making agent, particularly when intervening in circumstances requiring reconciliation or compromise of meanings.

To fulfill his or her role, the mediator is required to present and create meaning orally or in writing to audiences of diverse linguistic or cultural backgrounds. In such cases, his/ her role is that of an arbiter of meaning.

An interesting fact, contributing to a translator’s success, is the clear distinction between inter-cultural and intra-cultural mediation (or mediator, implicitly). The latter indicates the acts performed by all of us in our daily life. As we take part at social events, we are involved in interpreting the social and culturally-situated reality in our attempt to convey the connotation that we embody for each other. Consider the following scenario: two persons attend a cloning seminar. If they are unfamiliar with the subject, it is extremely possible that the interpretations each listener envisions based on what is stated would differ. To have a meaningful discussion afterwards, the two both sides will need to negotiate their implications and maybe incorporate someone else who is there and has greater understanding into the matter. In this example, all of the participants are intra-cultural mediators, yet the two have equal status due to their lack of competence, whilst the third, who acts as the ‘expert,’ is given more influence in meaning production.

One can think of many examples from everyday life, when someone asked or was asked to act as a mediator while watching a television program with others, listening to radio programs, read newspapers or magazines. People negotiate all the time in the same language and quite often in different languages or in different “language cultures”. Whenever a social agent relays and interprets information or fills an information gap to a person with limited or no knowledge of the language in which the source message was conveyed and/or of standards cultural norms defines the message, he/ she holds or is positioned in the role of intercultural mediator.

From a textual and discursive standpoint, Hatim and Mason (1990) assert that the translator mediates both in the sense that he/ she “reads in order to produce” and “decodes in order to re-encode,” and also in the sense that he/ she mediates between cultures, given the fact that he/ she tries “to overcome those incompatibilities which stand in the way of the transfer of meaning.”  As a result, it appears that bilingualism and a bicultural worldview are essential for a translator.

Toury (1995) expresses a descriptivist viewpoint that appears to encourage the translator’s position as a cultural mediator. According to Toury, despite the “explanatory power with respect to translational phenomena” of disciplines such as Linguistics, Text Linguistics, Pragmatics, or Contrastive Textology, “being a translator cannot be reduced to the mere generation of utterances which would be considered ‘translations’ within any of these disciplines.”  He also considers that “Translation activities should rather be regarded as having cultural significance” and that “Consequently, ‘translatorship’ amounts first and foremost to being able to play a social role.”

But what if the references that need to be translated do not exist in the target culture? Santamaria (2001) suggests that in this case the translator must provide them a symbolic value.

Continuing on the same line, Castro-Paniagua (2000) suggests that “a translator should be an ethnographer.” In his view, the translator will have to interpret correctly both the semantic information, and also the inherent cultural codes. According to him “the translator must adequately transmit and adapt [the] message across cultures,” so as he/ she “need[s] to have a deep knowledge of the cultural frames [he or she] will be handling.”

Based on what has been said thus far, we might conclude that a cultural mediator is someone who assists persons from different cultural backgrounds in communicating and understanding one another. A cultural mediator aids in the construction of cultural bridges targeting the creation of a more inclusive and peaceful society. Furthermore, the major goal of the cultural mediator is to bridge the cultural gap and help individuals overcome potential misunderstandings and conflicts induced by cultural differences.


Bailly, Sophie, Devitt, Sean, Gremmo, Marie-José, Heyworth, Frank, Hopkins, Andy, Jones, Barry, Makosch, Mike, Riley, Philip, Stoks, Gé, Trim, John (eds.), 2001. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment, A Guide for Users, Language Policy Division, Strasbourg, p. 87-88
Hatim, B., & Mason, I. 1990. Discourse and the Translator. London: Longman, p. 223-224
Toury, G. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins, p. 53
Santamaria, L. 2001. Función y traducción de los referentes culturales en subtitulación. In L. Lorenzo et al. (Eds.), Traducción subordinada (II): El subtitulado (pp. 237-248). Vigo: University of Vigo, p. 246
Castro-Paniagua, F. 2000. English-Spanish Translation, Through a Cross-Cultural Interpretation Approach. New York: University Press of America, p. 24


prof. Carmen-Lidia Nistor

Școala Gimnazială Mihai Eminescu, Brăila (Brăila) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/carmen.nistor

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