The MUTABLE research project

MUTABLE: Multimodal Translation with the Blind

A postdoctoral research project at University of Helsinki, funded by Academy of Finland

Project duration: 2017-2019

In MUTABLE, I study the process of audio description and the collaboration and interaction between sighted and blind people during the process.
Some practices of audio describing are characterised by multimodal interaction and collaboration between translators and users. Though translation process is traditionally regarded as the individual translator’s mental processing, in recent years, however, translating is increasingly being considered as a product of collaboration and interaction between translators and their social network and workplace. In MUTABLE, I seek to render new insight into the collaborative making of a translation by analysing how translations are created and shared multimodally in interaction by a translating team. The case in point is audio description.
I investigate the use of multimodal resources, the organisation of work and the participant roles in the audio description process and take special focus on three topics:
  • 1) how the cognitive operations related to translating (e.g. comprehension, decision-making) are displayed and shared through speech, gestures, and other bodily communication;
  • 2) how non-sighted describers make use of auditory resources (e.g. film soundtrack and collaborators’ speech) in interacting with the team and in interpreting the source material;
  • 3) how the perception-related asymmetry between the participants affects interaction and collaboration.
The project’s results increase knowledge of translating as a multimodal interaction process and of interaction between sighted and non-sighted persons. The project highlights the role of interaction and users in the making of translation. Furthermore, it investigates the audiovisuality of cinema from the perspective of asymmetric interpretations: those who can both see and hear, and those who cannot see but hear (even more than the sighted?). The project’s findings can help identifying visually impaired persons’ expertise in relation to translation and multimodal communication. This new knowledge can be applied to foster inclusion in the society as well as diversity at workplace.
  • I am currently in the phase of collecting research data, which means I video-record authentic AD teamwork at describers’ workplaces. Should you be interested in giving data to the project, or if you have contacts to audio describers who might be interested, please let me know! I’m also interested in knowing more about the processes of AD in different countries, in particular if they involve collaboration between visually impaired and sighted people.
  • Contact: maija.hirvonen(at)


Listen to a sample of Finnish film audio description online – Kuuntele, miltä elokuvan kuvailutulkkaus kuulostaa!

Näyte Salainen metsäni -elokuvan kuvailutulkkauksesta (elokuvan tuotanto Double Back Documentaries, 2017; kuvailutulkkaus Pipsa Toikka):