Methodological questions about translation research: A model to underpin research into the mental processes of translation

Stuart Campbell and Berta Wakim

Research on the mental processes of written translation has benefited less from the findings of psycholinguistic and cognitive research than interpreting research has. This has left translation research relatively impoverished in the theoretical grounding of research methodology. While the performance speed of interpreting seems to make interpreting research closer to bilingual speech research, the shared features of interpreting and translation suggest that they are points on a continuum rather than discrete production modes. A Translation-Interpreting Continuum is proposed, which allows various production modes to be described in terms of psycholinguistic notions, and which includes a language development dimension to account for second language production. The Continuum allows some very basic questions about translation research methodology to be answered, and opens up the opportunity for a better integration of translation and interpreting research.

Table of contents

While empirical investigations of written translation (e.g. Krings 1986, 1987, Dechert 1987, Gerloff 1987) have made inroads into our understanding of the mental processes underpinning this complex phenomenon, written translation has attracted relatively little interest from researchers in the psycholinguistic and cognitive domains of bilingualism. On the other hand research into oral [ p. 2 ]translation, or interpreting, has interacted much more with research into these fields to the extent that leading authorities on bilingualism are now beginning to discuss simultaneous interpreting (e.g. de Bot 2000, Paradis 2000, MacWhinney 2005) as a topic of interest, and there are even neurolinguistic accounts (e.g. Paradis 1994). Research into interpreting utilises and adapts the findings of psycholinguistic and cognitive studies (e.g. Gile 1995, de Groot 1997, 2000, Christoffels and de Groot 2005, Christoffels el al. 2006) most likely because of the affinity between interpreting and bilingual speech production, particularly in speed of delivery; authorities such as Gile (1995, 1997) and Christoffels and de Groot (2005) cite the relative slowness of written translation as the reason to focus on interpreting rather than translation: “[I]nterpreters work at speech delivery speed”, whereas “[t]ranslators generally have hours, days, or even weeks to complete the operations” (Gile 1995: 111–112). The prospect for collaboration between interpreting and translation research is however beginning to be recognised, for example in Schäffner (2004) where a number of (mainly interpreting) researchers chart some of the common ground.

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