Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Mariaelena Bartesaghi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jane Jorgenson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Fred Steier, Ph.D.


Communication models, ethnography of communication, metaphors of communication, translation issues, speech community


In this thesis, I examine the practical challenge of constructing communication at the Arabic Translation Service (ATS) of the UN through the process of translation. Unlike in English in which "communication" has only one equivalent, in Arabic it has many depending on the context. My analysis focuses on analyzing the occurrence of two translation equivalents, namely ittissal and tawassul given that their use in translation sometimes proves to be cultural.

I conducted participant observation over the course of a two-month internship at the UN Headquarters in New York. Using grounded theory, I pieced together insights from a database of occurrences of the term "communication," interviewed staff members about their opinion about previous translations of "communication," witnessed staff interactions during their weekly meetings, and participated in a communication framework to create closer relationships between the ATS and other duty stations outside the UN. The way this framework is designed helps define how communication is understood as both theoretical concept and word used for translation purposes. Adopting an ethnography of communication approach, I illuminate the cultural differences involved in translating the term "communication" into Arabic in UN documents by an Arab multicultural team. By means of exploring translation issues, I aim at defining the prominent model of communication in the UN ATS community, and showing how this community's talk reflects tensions between different culturally embedded models.

My conclusion is that ittissal is preferred over tawassul, the first involving more technical meaning and less contact among people. Some translators disagree with some translations. The UN ATS has its own language, given that it communicates to particular audiences. I aim at finding out why ittissal is the preferred term, why is standard Arabic not used for communication among the staff, and what aspects during translation are cultural.