Outsiders in Translation Research

Gyde Hansen

November 11, 2008


In his October issue, Daniel Gile discusses the question of TS researchers needing to be translators or not, i.e. if outsiders, i.e. non-translating researchers, have a chance to come up with some “good achievements” – under several defined conditions which are, for example, that they don’t fall into the trap of doing contrastive linguistics and avoid “judging Translation performance on linguistic criteria and on informational equivalence without considering underlying norms and tactics.” All this sounds quite reasonable – if this issue were not such a rough generalization about “Non-Translating researchers” and if there were not the word “outsiders”.

      A look at the program of the last EST-congress in Ljubljana, quickly shows the wide range of issues TS researchers work with, e.g. literature, training, theories, ideology, translation policy, interpreting, profession, culture, history and terminology; and they investigate, for example, Retranslation of the Evergreen Classics, Translation of Elvis Presley’s songs, Translation Policy and Minorities, Translation during Franco’s dictatorship, Explicitation and Implication in Legal Translation, Translating Menus in Greece, Subtitling in Flanders, fMRI for exploring simultaneous interpreting – just to mention a few of the contributions.    

      There is no doubt that research in, for example, professional translation and interpreting presupposes special knowledge and that it is easier to observe, understand and describe problems, strategies and processes when you are up-to-date in your field of research. In some areas like “Translating Menus in Greece”, it may not be absolutely necessary to be the translator of the menus. Here, experience from Greek restaurants and special knowledge about comparable food in the target language may be at least as important.

      Being an expert in one’s own field of research is needed in all fields of research – and like in all the other fields – generalizations and unsubstantiated claims about some potential “outsiders” don’t seem to be constructive – not in the 1970s and 1980s – and not now.     

      As mentioned, what really surprised me was the word “outsiders”? Who is it that suddenly steps in from outside and tries to do Translation research? If we use our translation skills and try to translate the term “outsider”, e.g. into German, it shows that such a person is a “Nichtfachmann” or a “Nichteingeweihter”. Can such people do any kind of research in any field or discipline? As the majority of TS researchers are translation trainers at universities – and as many of them don’t have the possibility also to work as practical translators – it must be them who are the “outsiders”? 

      University professors are expected to provide research-based translation training which has to be up-to-date and prospective because it is them who provide our society with the future professional translators. As a natural consequence of the requirement of “research-based training”, it is among the university teachers’ duties to do the Translation research.

      I wonder if it is these colleagues from universities – the trainers of the future professional translators, Daniel Gile thinks of, when he talks about “outsiders” - “Nichtfachleute”? Or is it perhaps the corpus linguists, who write about translation?  


A response from D. Gile


I used the word “outsiders” deliberately to include all those, whether teachers of translation or not, who are not practitioners of Translation, because the vocal allegation of many translators is (still) that if you are not a practicing Translator, you have no legitimacy as a researcher into Translation. This is precisely the narrow view which I think needs to be fought – preferably with evidence. Some, and in particular Anthony Pym, stress that most academics who write about Translation have had some experience as Translators as well, but I think we can go beyond this line of defense and find evidence that even those who have never had such experience can do good research if they are careful researchers.