Translator status: Helpers and opponents in the ongoing battle of an emerging profession

Helle V. Dam and Karen Korning Zethsen
Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University

The present article is part of a larger project which investigates the occupational status of professional translators. The studies conducted so far within the framework of the project have been based on questionnaires and mainly been of a quantitative nature. The present article reports on a qualitative analysis of the wealth of comments which the translators who participated in the questionnaire studies wrote in response to an open invitation to comment on anything in relation to the study and its subject. In order to structure the translators’ comments, we have relied on Algirdas-Julien Greimas’ actantial model. Themes identified as important facilitators of or barriers to status included translator training, recognition of translators’ expertise, authorization, level of professionalization and income.

Table of contents

Translator status has received very little attention in Translation Studies as a subject in its own right. Although the literature contains numerous references to translation as a low-status profession (e.g. Chamberlain 1988/2000; Chesterman and Wagner 2002; Hermans and Lambert 1998; Koskinen 2000; Lefevere 1995; Risku 2004; Schäffner (ed.) 2004; Venuti 1995), it is only recently that the topic has begun to emerge as an object of empirical research (for an overview of the literature on translator status, see Dam and Zethsen 2008). An example that deserves separate mention is the large-scale research project on strategies of image-making and status advancement of translators and interpreters in Israel that is currently [ p. 195 ]being conducted by Rakefet Sela-Sheffy and Miriam Shlesinger (e.g. Sela-Sheffy and Shlesinger 2008)—a project much is to be expected of, but which is still in progress. In the framework of this project, Sela-Sheffy and Shlesinger convened an international workshop entitled Profession, identity and status: Translators and interpreters as an occupational group in Tel Aviv in March 2009. The workshop has subsequently been documented in two special issues of the journal Translation and Interpreting Studies (Sela-Sheffy and Shlesinger (eds) 2009 and 2010), which contain several articles that touch upon translators’ status in society (e.g. Chan 2009; Katan 2009b; Monzó 2009; Meylaerts 2010). Some of the articles in a thematic section of a recent issue of the journal Hermes edited by the authors of the present article (Dam and Zethsen (eds) 2009) also address translators’ social status (e.g. Katan 2009a; Koskinen 2009). Thus, the topic is attracting an increasing amount of scholarly attention, but empirical documentation is to a large extent still pending.

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