278 Appendix JOT teachers
list should contain five words of medium difficulty that do not quite fit into a
single coherent discourse or register. For example:
demonstrator, ordinance, signpost, escalator, plastique
venerable, vehicular, venereal, vulnerable, virtual
cylinder, antislip surface, counter, column, revolving door
float, chute, flatbed, load limit, listserv
jamb, jack, jig, joist, joint
manifold, mandatory, manifest, mangle, manhole
Print each list on a separate sheet of paper and photocopy enough for the
whole class; or else write them on the board or overhead transparency. Then
take the class through the following exercises, one with each list.
(a) Have the students work on the first list (it doesn't matter which) with
a dictionary, alone; encourage them to be as thorough and analytical as
possible, even looking up words they know and choosing the meaning
that they think most likely (but don't encourage them to construct a
coherent context to facilitate the determination of "likelihood" — yet).
Get them to put their facial muscles into "concentration" mode: focused
eyes, knitted brow, clenched jaw.
(b) Next have them work on the second list, still alone, but now relaxing,
getting comfortable in their chairs, visualizing every word, and building
a composite image of all five words before translating.
(c) With the third list, have them work alone again, and relaxing and
visualizing again, but with classical (or other fairly complex but
enjoyable) music playing in the background as they translate.
(d) With the fourth list, start with relaxation, music, and visualization
again, but now have the students break up into groups of three or four,
discussing context and collectively creating a reasonable and realistic
context for the words (imagining a professional context for them,
telling a story about them, etc.) before translating them.
(e) With the fifth list, do everything as in (d), but now have the students
mime the meanings of the words to each other before translating.
(f) With the sixth list, do everything as in (e), but this time have the
students try to come up with the funniest possible wrong or bad
The exercise can be completed in about 30 minutes if you rush, but works
better if you allow 45—60 minutes. Even if you rush, be sure to allow 15—20
minutes after it is over to give students a chance to talk about what they
were feeling as they moved from one step to the next. What difference did
Appendix JOT teachers 279
relaxation make? Music? (Some find music very distracting; others become
many times more productive once the music starts playing.) Group work?
Mime? Funny wrong translations?
Some, incidentally, may find the idea of doing wrong translations disturbing.
Note, however, that the creative process is the same in both right and wrong
translations, just a lot more fun, and thus also more productive — generates
more possible versions — in the latter. Skeptics can also be directed to the
findings of Paul Kussmaul (1995: 39ff.) in his think-aloud protocol research:
It could be observed in the protocols, especially during incubation, when
relaxation was part of the game, that a certain amount of laughter and
fooling around took place amongst the subjects if they did not find their
solution at once. This, in combination with the "parallel-activity technique"
described above, also prevented them from being stuck up a blind alley,
and promoted new ideas. Laughter can also be a sign of sympathetic
approval on the part of a subject and may help to create the gratification-
oriented condition postulated by neurologists.
This exercise is obviously closely related to (1), differing primarily, in fact,
only in using a whole text instead of a word list. (The word list, being simpler,
is more "teachable"; the whole text is more realistic, and more complicated.)
Elements from exercise (1) not listed here might in fact be added — especially
Note the somewhat artificial distinction made in this exercise between
"preparatory" or "pre-translation" activities (a—c) and "translation" (d—e). In
real life these blur together, of course, but it is useful for students to realize
what an important role "pre-translation" processes play in the act of translation
— how essential it is to "get in the right frame of mind" to translate something.
This exercise can be done by individual students or in small groups. Its
purpose is to give them a different way of organizing dictionary-knowledge
about terminology than simply looking up individual words, and to enhance
their ability to remember what they find through this method, using visual
Make it clear to students that professional translators go through this process
many times every day — and that it is a good idea to get into the habit of
documenting the decision-making process (and coming up with a final
justification) as in this exercise, in case a client or agency project manager
challenges your choice. Get them to describe the mental processes they went
280 Appendixfor teachers
through in determining the best word at each step of the way: based purely
on databases in (c), on web searches in (d—e), on a phone call to an expert in
(f), and on a listserv query in (g). What swayed them one way or the other?
What gave one word the "edge" over another? In sifting through the different
authorities (databases, web search hits, experts, other translators), which
carried the most weight, which less — and what factors made it seem like this
or that authority carried more or less weight?
The value of this exercise for future translators' knowledge of terminology
should be obvious. What may not be quite so obvious is that it can also serve
to develop connections in the working world that may one day mean
employment for the graduate. This is essentially an ethnographic research
method; expanded to research paper or MA thesis length (especially if the
workplace they study is a translation division in government or industry), it
can put students in touch with potential future employers.
This chapter is an attempt to reframe linguistic approaches to translation in terms
of students' acts of dynamic theorizing — to offer students analytical and imaginative
tools with which to transform static, formalistic, and heavily idealized linguistic
theories into mental processes in which they too can participate. The chapter is
based on the dual assumption that (1) the use of language is primary, and is steeped
in specific language-use situations in which we try to figure out what the other
person is saying, gradually building up a sense of the patterns and regularities in
speech and writing; and (2) abstract linguistic structures are deductive patterns that
grow out of that process of sense-making, not (as linguists beginning with Saussure
believe) ideal structures that exist prior to speech and are, alas, mangled by actual
speakers. Abstract linguistic structures are the inventions of linguists trying to reduce
the complexity of language to logical forms. And that is a perfectly natural part of
language use. We always try to find patterns; and because language is too complex
for the patterns we find, we always overgeneralize. Overgeneralization is not only
a natural but also a valuable reaction to complexity; in this sense linguists perform
an important function. It is essential, however, that we remember what we (and
linguists) are doing, that we are overgeneralizing, reducing complexity to an artificial
simplicity — that we not start believing, with Saussure and Chomsky and the
linguistic tradition, that we are somehow uncovering the "true underlying structure"
This topic is obviously designed to let students explore some of the ideas
introduced just above, in the introduction to this chapter's appendix entry.
Appendix for teachers 281
Depending on where you stand on the issue of "what language is" or "what
linguists do," you may want to (1) articulate my assumptions as spelled out
above as a target for student critiques (if you disagree with me strongly and
want to encourage students to do the same); (2) articulate those assumptions
as something for students to think about and consider as an interesting
(but not necessarily correct) alternative to linguistic approaches, and an
explanation for why the book says the things it says (if you're flexible and
openminded about these things); (3) present my assumptions as the truth (if
you're completely in agreement and want to encourage students to join you
there); (4) some combination of the above. Personally, I'd prefer (2). But it's
Here again, the notion that every overgeneralization about language, including
linguistic analyses, is an overgeneralization is only "insulting" if we want to
assume that linguistic analyses describe a true underlying reality called
la langue or competence. If linguistics is just an interesting and useful way
of reducing the complexity of language to a workable analytical simplicity —
an intellectual fiction, of potentially great heuristic value — then it is
fundamentally no different from the overgeneralizations any of us come up
with to explain the language we use.
1—2 Both of these exercises are designed to encourage students to look closely at
linguistic approaches to translation, one (Nida and Taber) more prescriptive,
the other (Baker) more descriptive — specifically in terms of their own inductive
processes, their own work toward formulating patterns and regularities
in language and translation. These exercises are designed to help students
explore the learning processes behind Nida and Taber and Baker (and, by
extension, the other linguistic translation theorists they read).
The main consideration here is this: students are all too often presented
with theories &sfaits accomplis, prefabricated structures that they are expected
to observe from a distance (sometimes a very short distance) and memorize.
They are neither required nor allowed to test the theories against their own
experience, much less attempt to derive the theories on their own. But we
know that deriving things on one's own is the best way to learn them. This
is, in fact, most probably what translators and translation students mean when
they complain about theory: not so much that it has no practical application
(though that is often how they express it), but that they are given no chance
to explore or experiment with its practical applications. It is presented to
them as an inert object to be internalized. Indeed, since academic decorum
frowns on theorists explaining in detail how they arrived at a certain
theoretical formulation, and especially on theorists leaving things open-ended,
282 Appendix for teachers
half-articulated (perhaps with the suggestion that readers finish the thinking
process on their own), students and other readers are given the impression
that there is nothing more to be said, nothing to add to or subtract from the
formulation, and therefore no place into which the reader could insert himself
or herself as a thinker-in-process.
(As Shoshana Felman (1983) notes wryly, J. L. Austin's willingness to
remain in process with his thinking about speech acts in How to Do Things with
Words (1962/1976) scandalized his followers, notably John Searle: Austin
developed the distinction between constative and performative speech acts,
realized that the distinction didn't really work, and so, halfway through his
book, discarded it and started over. This is not how academic books are
supposed to proceed! The advantage of Austin's approach from a student's or
other critical reader's point of view, however, is that it leaves room for them
to participate, join in the inductive process of moving from complexity to
simplicity — rather than simply taking it or leaving it, or, worse, simply
I should also note that this dynamic underlies my insistence on building
into this book exercises and discussion topics that encourage students to
explore how I put the book together and why I did it that way, and how they
would do things differently had it been theirs to write. It is not that I am some
sort of masochist, wanting to be attacked; it is rather that I believe that
students learn best if they actively construct knowledge rather than passively
receive it, and that always involves or requires the ability to analyze and
challenge and criticize received wisdom.
9 Social networks
This chapter explores the social nature of translation: how translators interact with
other people to learn (and keep learning) language, to develop and improve
translation skills, to get and do translation jobs, to get paid for them, etc. Because
this particular sociological approach to translation has been most powerfully
developed by the German skopos/Handlung school, the chapter concludes with a
brief exposition of their theoretical models, along with exercises designed to help
students understand those models better.
The main stability lost in a shift from text-based to action-based theories is
the notion of textual equivalence, which becomes a nonissue in skopos/
Handlung theories. For people who believe that translation (and translation
studies) is and should remain text-based, focused on stable structures of
linguistic equivalence between a source text and a target text, this approach
Appendix for teachers 283
will seem not only impossibly vague and general but not really about
translation at all. Translation studies, they believe, should be about translation,
which is equivalence between texts — not about translators in some huge
sociological context. The skopos/Handlung theorists, on the other hand, argue
that those sociological contexts are precisely where such things as the type of
equivalence desired are determined.
This also means, of course, that any claim to universality is lost: a focus on
the sociological contexts in which equivalence is determined will inevitably
relativize discussions of the "correct" translation, because different people in
different contexts will expect different types of correctness. For people who
prefer absolutes and universals, this relativism will seem dangerous — it will
seem to be saying to students that anything goes. It doesn't, of course — in
those real-world contexts, anything does not go, translation is very closely
regulated by sociological forces — but the comforts of universal absolutes are
The idea here is to give students a chance to talk about their fears and
anxieties, and to help them to work through them to a greater sense of
confidence in their own abilities. Students who are inclined to heap abuse on
such fears should be gently but firmly discouraged from doing so in class.
This is a good chance for you to do some proselytizing for your national
and/or regional translator organization or union, and to encourage students
to join, buy their literature, attend their conferences (even, perhaps, offer to
present their projects from this class at those conferences). If you are
personally active in that group, share your experiences with them. Figure out
ways to get the students to attend a conference — does the department have
funds to help students attend? Would a fund-raiser be possible?
Social groups are often thought of as airtight categories: each person will be
a member of certain groups, and other people will be members of other
groups, with no overlaps. Obviously, this is not the case. Not only will people
who are members of different groups also at some level be members of the
same group — at the highest level, of course, we're all members of the human
race — but the boundaries between groups are often fuzzy. Racially, for
example, there are probably as many people of mixed race as there are of
"pure" ones (if indeed such a thing exists). Not only are there many people
with dual nationalities; immigrants and people living in borderlands often
have mixed national and cultural loyalties. Even gender is fuzzy: some men
are more feminine, some women more masculine; gays, lesbians, and
bisexuals blur the gender lines; and there is even a small group of hermaph-
rodites who are biologically both male and female.
This topic is aimed implicitly at this entire book, and specifically Chapters
5—10 of the book, which constitute a series of bridges between theories and
practice. At the extremes of the discussion, some will argue that theorists
284 Appendix for teachers
should serve practice by telling translators how to translate (usually a highly
unpopular position among translators, for obvious reasons, but one that some
translators do nonetheless hold), while others will claim that theory is useless
for practice and should not be studied at all. Once these extreme positions
have been aired, it will be most fruitful to explore the middle ground between
them: how can theories be made useful for practice? Do we have to rely on
the theorists themselves for this, or is it possible to convert apparently useless
theories into practically useful ones on our own, as readers? (Chapters 6—10
are attempts to achieve such conversions, and the exercises in those chapters
are examples of them.)
1—2 As I mentioned just above, these exercises are designed to help students work
through translation theories in ways that will render them more useful for
translation practice — and in the process also help students begin to theorize
translation more complexly themselves. Both exercises, like the ones in
Chapters 8 and 10, are long, elaborate, and complicated, and will require
quite a bit of time — even a whole week of class time — to work through. Since
they serve to introduce students to the prevailing theories of translation in
the world today, and do so in ways that make those theories accessible,
interesting, and practical for everyday use, they should be worth the time.
This chapter explores the significant impact culture has on translation — not only in
making certain words and phrases (so-called realia) "untranslatable," but, as recent
culturally oriented theorists have been showing, in controlling the ways in which
translations are made and distributed. Its main focus is on these latter theorists: the
school variously called polysystems, descriptive translation studies (DTS), and
manipulation, as well as the newer feminist and postcolonial approaches.
All four of these topics address the universalist positions that have dominated
Western translation theory until the past few decades; first developed by the
medieval Christian church, later secularized as liberal humanism, that universalism
has most recently been propounded by theorists like Eugene Nida and Peter
Newmark, and is likely to be one of the main theoretical assumptions brought to
this class by your students. If so, the relativistic notions that have come to prevail in
translation theory over the past two or three decades will provoke considerable
resistance among them — and that resistance needs to be expressed and discussed.
Appendixfor teachers 285
If you have time in your course to assign extended readings from these culturally
oriented theorists, you may be able to deal with that resistance at greater length,
and perhaps wear it down. If not, it is probably better not to try to convince students
that these new theorists are right and they, the students, and 1,600 years of
hegemonic Western translation theory, are wrong. Most effective at this point is to
raise the possibility that things are more complicated and difficult than the
universalist position makes them seem.
This position ties in closely with the one raised in topic 1 of Chapter 6; refer
to that discussion above for further ideas.
This is likely to be an unpopular view; the main idea in discussing it, again,
should not be to convince students of it (I'm not convinced myself), but to
get them to take it seriously enough, for long enough, to consider its
implications. Imagine a professional situation in which that assumption did in
fact control your every decision — what would that be like?
Depending on how hot the political-correctness fires have raged in your
country, you may or may not want to open this can of worms at all. Perhaps
the best way to avoid the kind of useless bickering that the topic typically
seems to generate is to focus the discussion on whether the professional
community does require the avoidance of discriminatory usage — and, when
and where it does, how best to deal with that.
Since the first scenario is so blatantly tied to medieval Christianity, where it
originated, some students who do actually believe in that model will feel
uncomfortable defending it, and will want to modify it in secular ways.
Helping them to articulate their modifications, and to explore just how
different they are from the scenario as spelled out in the chapter, may in fact
be a useful way of getting at the point being made: that we all still retain a
powerful loyalty to the universalist model, which continues to affect our
thinking about translation when we overtly resist or reject it.
1—2 Like the exercises in Chapters 7—9, these are designed to help students work
through recent translation theories in hands-on ways, thinking about them
critically, applying them to their experience, etc. As before, you should
probably devote at least a week to these two exercises alone.
11 When habit fails
This concluding chapter returns us to the issue of analysis, which has seemed to be
neglected throughout the book — though in fact it has always implicitly been present.
Analysis is obviously a crucial part of translation, and this chapter explores some
286 Appendix for teachers
of the reasons why. Because the model used in this book portrays the translator as
someone who shuttles back and forth between conscious analysis (whenever a
problem arises, whenever, to put it in Massimini and Carli's (1995) terms, the
challenge exceeds the translator's skills) and internalized or sublimated but still
analytical processing (most of the time), it may seem to some as if analysis is being
relegated to the peripheries of the translator's work, made secondary, even
irrelevant. This could not be farther from the truth.
The key to successful translator training, I've been arguing, is to move from the
painfully slow analytical processes that are typically taught in classrooms to the fast
subliminal processes that most translators rely on to make a decent living — and the
best way to do that is to learn to internalize those slow analytical processes, so that
they operate unconsciously, by "second nature." At the same time, however, we must
not lose sight of the fact that problem areas in a source text always force professional
translators out of their "fast" modes and into the "slow" modes of conscious analysis
— and this chapter explores that latter.
1—2 Both topics, clearly, give students one more chance to discuss the model
developed throughout the book, the practical pedagogical consequences of
which they have been experiencing throughout the course.
This exercise can be done by individual students, or they can work in pairs, one
student reading the text to the other and monitoring the "translator's" physical
changes — eyes widen, posture straightens, etc. You can also generate your own
versions of these "problematic" source texts by finding or writing relatively simple
texts and making some absurd change in them about ten lines from the top.
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