Translation Research & Interpreting Rese: Traditions, Gaps and Synergies

Translation Research & Interpreting Rese: Traditions, Gaps and Synergies

by Christina Schaffner (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781853597343
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 11/25/2004
Series: Current Issues in Language and Society Monographs Series
Pages: 136
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Christina Schäffner is a Reader in Translation Studies (German) in the School of Languages and Social Sciences at Aston University (Birmingham, UK). Her main research interests are translation studies, political discourse, textlinguistics, and metaphor research. She has published widely in these fields.

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Translation Research versus Interpreting Research: Kinship, Differences and Prospects for Partnership


Translation research (TR) and interpretation research (IR) have different histories (TR is much older), differently hierarchised foci (traditionally, TR has focused on ideological, cultural and sociological issues and IR on the interpreting process), different academic environments (TR has been conducted mostly within the humanities and IR within interpreter-training programmes), and differently trained and motivated scholars (academics versus professional interpreters). However, phenomenologically, they share a deep common basis and recent developments have also narrowed the gap between their environments and foci. As research disciplines, they also share epistemological, methodological, institutional and wider sociological concerns and do not seem to be in territorial competition. It, therefore, makes much sense for both disciplines to work together in spite of the differences.


The study of translation has a history as long as history itself (see, for instance, Steiner [1975] and Bassnett [1980], who start their historical overview of the literature on translation studies with the Romans). Proper academic research into translation, however, is only several decades old. Interpreting has a longer history than translation, since it was presumably practised before texts were actually written. Academic research into interpreting is slightly younger than its counterpart in translation but also started in the 1960s (see Pöchhacker & Shlesinger, 2002).

Initially, the two academic disciplines evolved with little contact between scholars and institutions. In the past two decades, institutional and personal factors have led to greater mutual awareness and even to some cooperative work. In particular, some scholars have been researching and publishing in both disciplines, translators and interpreters are active in international learned societies such as EST, the European Society for Translation Studies, teach in the same doctoral seminars such as the CETRA programme and are posing an increasing number of epistemological and methodological questions of a similar nature.

This position chapter is a humble attempt by an analyst, whose research interests lie mainly in conference-interpreting research and in translator-training issues, to initiate a discussion within a wider circle of interpreting and translation scholars in order to gain a broader insight into the differences, similarities and effective and potential interactions in the wider field of Translation Studies (TS), as it is sometimes called. It reviews a number of fundamental differences between translation and several forms of interpreting and their implications for research in these two fields, as well as developments over the past decades. The territory covered is wide and I can only claim reasonably good knowledge of a small area within it. I will, therefore, start this analysis from the point of view of conference interpreting, which I assume to be less well known to most readers of this collection and hope that input from partners in this exchange with better knowledge of other types of interpretation research (IR) and translation research (TR) will fill gaps, correct misperceptions and give a better balance to this collective analysis.

Translation and Interpreting: Shared Features and Differences

By way of a reminder, a few definitions and a brief review of the fundamental shared features and differences between translation and interpreting may help prepare the ground for a discussion of research into these two disciplines. Since these aspects are explained elsewhere in the literature, and are only mentioned here by way of introduction to an analysis of research into translation and interpreting, the following review will remain fairly general, with a few pointers to the literature for further information and views.


For the purposes of this chapter, I shall use the word translation for a written target-language reformulation of a written source text and the words interpretation or interpreting for a non-written re-expression of a non-written source text. Most of the discussion will focus on interpretation from a spoken language into another spoken language, but much of it also applies to interpretation from a spoken language into a sign language and vice versa. Within interpreting, I shall refer mostly to conference interpreting, the type of interpreting which enjoys the highest prestige and the highest remuneration. Conference interpreters work mostly at meetings organised by international organisations, by large industrial corporations, by government bodies at a high level and for radio and television. Court interpreters work essentially at court proceedings. Sign-language interpreters work in all environments where deaf people need to communicate with hearing people. Community interpreters (also called dialogue interpreters, public service interpreters, etc.) work mostly in environments where individuals from minority groups or foreigners, interact with the public authorities and medical authorities in a host-country (see Roberts et al., 2000). This 'social' classification of interpreting has implications for the development of research, as is explained later.

Besides 'pure translation' and 'pure interpreting', there are also 'intermediate' types, such as sight translation, where the source text is written and the target text is spoken but this distinction is not relevant to the present discussion.

'Simultaneous interpreting' is a mode in which the interpreter reformulates the source speech as it unfolds, generally with a lag of a few seconds at most. In 'consecutive interpreting', the speaker makes a statement, which generally lasts up to a few minutes, while the interpreter takes notes; then the speaker stops and the interpreter reformulates the statement. This is repeated until the speaker has finished his/her intervention. Conference interpreters also distinguish between 'true consecutive', as described here, and sentence-by-sentence consecutive, where the speaker's statements are much shorter and do not require note-taking.

'Working languages' are those languages effectively used by translators and interpreters in their translation and interpreting activity. 'Active languages' are those into which they translate and interpret and 'passive languages' are those languages which they translate from but not into. 'A languages' are translators' and interpreters' native languages or the equivalent thereof. 'B languages' are active languages other than native languages. 'C languages' are passive languages.

The process and working environment

Both translation and interpreting consist in reformulating a source text (written, spoken or signed) into a target text (also written, spoken or signed). Both translators and interpreters have to deal with problems raised by interlinguistic issues, such as lexical and grammatical discrepancies which force them to decide what information to keep, what information to discard and what information to add. Both translators and interpreters have to deal with intercultural issues as well. Both translators and interpreters have to deal with their lack of relevant thematic and LSP-specific knowledge, which forces them to look for additional information in order to complete their translation and interpretation assignment: such additional information is largely terminological but also phraseological and thematic.

The main obvious differences in the processes of translation versus interpreting (as opposed to more subtle or controversial differences) have to do with technical constraints. Translators have hours, days, weeks or longer to deal with problems that arise, whereas interpreters only have seconds or minutes (depending on whether they are working in simultaneous or in consecutive mode). Generally, while translating, translators can also consult various sources of information, including printed and electronic reference texts, colleagues and experts in the relevant field. Interpreters cannot, except possibly for a glance at a glossary or a document they have in the interpreting booth in front of them while they are interpreting, at the risk of missing part of the incoming speech (see Gile, 1995b).

Another important difference is that the translation process and the interpreting process are constrained differently in the working environment. In (business) translation, the main source of stress is the required speed of processing and associated fatigue. In conference interpreting, stress may originate in stage fright at high-level meetings or when interpreting for the media, especially in view of the fact that, unlike translators, interpreters cannot correct their initial utterance (with some exceptions), and also in the physical environment in the booth (see Mackintosh, 2002). In court interpreting and dialogue interpreting of various types, much stress is inherent to the situation and in the interpreter's responsibility (Roberts et al., 2000).

Last, but not least, conference interpreting is often associated with an exciting, sometimes glamorous working environment: presidential palaces, international conferences on highly visible, highly topical issues and events, international festivals and sports events, the possibility of meeting and sometimes talking face-to-face with well-known personalities. As explained later in this chapter, this attractiveness of one aspect of conference interpreting probably plays an important role in the attitudes of interpreters toward research.

The product

The product of interpretation is an oral (or signed) text, which is mentally processed by the listener as soon as it is heard (or seen), at a rate determined by its rate of delivery, generally in the original communication situation. It is highly personal, as its perception by the user of the interpreting service depends not only on its content and linguistic choices in terms of 'words' but also on the quality of the interpreter's voice and on various delivery parameters, including accent, intonation, pauses, articulation speed, etc. (see, in particular, Collados Ais, 1998). The product of translation is a written text, which is read at the speed chosen by the reader, as many times as the reader wishes and potentially in any communication or non-communication situation. Roughly speaking, none of the personal delivery parameters relevant in interpreting are present in translation, where only the 'words' remain, in an anonymous printed form: in a more subtle analysis, one could argue that the page layout as well as punctuation, the length of sentences and even the choice of words – or characters in the case of Japanese – are comparable to delivery parameters in interpreting. However, at least the subjective feeling of interpreters, also based on the on-the-spot reactions of their clients, is that they have a direct relationship with the users of their services than translators.

Skills and personality

Both translators and interpreters have to be familiar with the respective norms of their professional environments with respect to the requirements of professional translation/interpretation. This includes the acceptability and relative merits of various strategies to help them cope with translation/interpretation problems. They obviously also need the knowledge and know-how required to implement such strategies.

Translators are required to produce editorially acceptable written text, while interpreters produce spoken text for immediate processing by listeners. Translators, therefore, have to be good writers and not necessarily good speakers, while interpreters have to be good speakers (and, in dialogue interpreting, good social mediators) but not necessarily good writers.

Interpreters have to master the oral form of their passive languages, including various accents, well enough to process them rapidly and without difficulty. Translators do not need to understand their passive languages as they are spoken. Neither do they require the same immediate comprehension and processing ability, since they have some leeway to deal with comprehension problems by taking more time and consulting various sources of help (Gile, 1995b).

The most formidable problem in conference interpreting, be it in simultaneous or in consecutive mode, is cognitive load: the operations involved in processing the incoming speech and producing a target speech, in simultaneous mode, or notes, in the first stage of consecutive interpreting (the second stage being the production of the target speech), impose a heavy mental load on the interpreter, with frequent saturation problems (Gile, 1999a). The specific cognitive skills required to cope with the task, which have attracted the attention of psychologists, are probably the most important single differentiating factor between simultaneous interpreters (mostly conference interpreters, but also sign-language interpreters and some court interpreters) and other interpreters and translators.

As to personalities, in spite of much speculation and some research (Henderson, 1987; Suzuki, 1988) on alleged differences between translators and interpreters, there are few solid findings. Suffice it to say here that interpreters need to have the sort of personality which allows them to perform under high stress in the presence of the communicating parties, when stakes may be very high and the risk of failure is ever present.

The social and economic environment

A final aspect which is relevant to the analysis of the development of research into translation versus research into interpreting is sociological and economic in nature. Professional translators can be found at many social and economic levels in socio-professional terms but mostly at a low to intermediate level (very few become senior executives) in companies where they are employed. Successful freelancers enjoy a comfortable income but their social status in society at large is rarely high, unless they are writers themselves. Most conference interpreters are freelancers and a minority among them are international civil servants working for international organisations. Their remuneration is not necessarily high (their remuneration per day of work can be relatively high but the number of interpreting assignments they have varies greatly) but their social status, as perceived by themselves and often by society at large, is relatively high. This is partly linked to their skills and partly to their physical presence and participation in events involving high-level and highly visible political, scientific, industrial and other personalities (see previous section). The income and status of court interpreters, sign-language interpreters and dialogue interpreters is much lower, probably due, to a large extent, to their lower visibility and to the lower social and financial status of users of their services (see Roberts et al., 2000).

Research into Translation and Interpreting: Tradition as a Differentiating Factor

Perhaps one of the most important factors underlying the differences between TR and IR is the fact, mentioned in the introduction, that TR is built on a long history of study of, and statements on translation, whereas IR is devoid of any such tradition. Indeed, in most works on the history and present status of TS, including Bassnett (1980), Robinson (1997), Stolze (1997), Venuti (2000) and Munday (2001), mention is made of theoretical contributions dating as far back as the Romans Cicero and Horace and extending into later history, in particular with Luther, Bible translators, literary authors and philosophers. Very few such statements are found on interpreting and no trace of deliberation on interpreting in past centuries seems to have influenced the development of IR.


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Table of Contents

The Contributors, vii,
Researching Translation and Interpreting Christina Schaffner, 1,
1 Translation Research versus Interpreting Research: Kinship, Differences and Prospects for Partnership Daniel Gile, 10,
2 The Debate, 35,
3 Public Service Interpreting: Practice and Scope for Research Jan Cambridge, 49,
4 Paradigm Problems? Andrew Chesterman, 52,
5 Translation Research and Interpreting Research – Pure, Applied, Action or Pedagogic? Janet Fraser, 57,
6 Translation Studies: A Succession of Paradoxes Yves Gambier, 62,
7 Aligning Macro- and Micro-Dimensions in Interpreting Research Moira Inghilleri, 71,
8 A Way to Methodology: The Institutional Role in TS Research Training and Development Zuzana Jettmarova, 77,
9 Conduits, Mediators, Spokespersons: Investigating Translator/Interpreter Behaviour Ian Mason, 89,
10 The Clue to Common Research in Translation and Interpreting: Methodology Mariana Orozco, 98,
11 I in TS: On Partnership in Translation Studies Franz Pochhacker, 104,
12 Doorstep Inter-subdisciplinarity and Beyond Miriam Shlesinger, 116,
13 Response to the Invited Papers Daniel Gile, 124,

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