Genetic translation studies

Table of contents

Genetic translation studies is a field of research in which the methodology of Franco-Belgian critique génétique, or genetic criticism, is used to study translators’ drafts, manuscripts, notes, corrected proofs – a translation’s avant-textes – in order to discern the processes that shaped the writing of translation. Critique génétique was first applied to translated texts in the 1990s, when researchers at the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes (ITEM) in Paris published their investigations into Paul Valéry’s translation papers as Génétique & Traduction (Bourjea 1995). Scott (2006) advanced a theoretical discussion around questions which themselves gained wider recognition with the special issues of Genesis (Durand-Bogaert 2014a) and Linguistica Antverpiensia (Cordingley and Montini 2015a), in particular. At this time, reflections on the use of archival sources emerged in other quarters of translation studies (e.g., Munday 2013, 2014; Mitchell 2014). Cordingley and Montini (2015b) proposed that such research be identified as “genetic translation studies” (GTS) to distinguish it from other approaches, such as cognitive, descriptive, sociological (see Sociology of translation) or corpus-based (see Corpora) translation studies. If GTS sometimes draws on one or more of these, it is defined by the systematic study of the successive phases of a translation through the documentary evidence of a translator’s work, and its subsequent evolution. GTS analyses avant-textes to determine the different processes and writing strategies engaged by the translator/s; it gauges the factors that inhibit or facilitate translators’ autonomy and creativity, including external influences, such as authors, collaborators, publishers, revisers, readers, who may alter the translator’s text, often in a series of back-and-forth revisions during the production phase of the text. This research also maps out the text’s evolution in its post-text phase, which includes revisions and reeditions of a published translation, and even its role as a source in a retranslation. It acknowledges that at each stage, the writing of translation is shaped by considerations of the translation’s function in the target culture, as well as its relationship to the source text. More recently GTS research has explored the translation archive as a site with its own political and aesthetic dynamics (see Cordingley & Hersant 2021).

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Bourjea, Serge
(ed.) 1995Génétique & traduction. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
Cordingley, Anthony, and Chiara Montini
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2015b“Genetic translation studies: an emerging discipline. Linguistica Antverpiensia (New Series) 14: 1–18.Google Scholar
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Further essential reading

Cordingley, Anthony, and Patrick Hersant
(eds) 2021Translation Archives, Special issue of Meta 66 (1).Google Scholar
Deppman, Jed, Daniel Ferrer, and Michael Groden
(eds) 2004Genetic criticism: Texts and avant-textes. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Google Scholar
Van Hulle, Dirk
2014Modern Manuscripts: The extended mind and creative undoing from Darwin to Beckett and beyond. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar