The role of archival and manuscript research in the investigation of translator decision-making

Jeremy Munday

This paper discusses the application of research methodologies from history and literary studies to the analysis of the translation process. Specifically, this concerns the use of literary archive and manuscript material to investigate the various stages in the construction of the translation product. Such material has been drastically underexploited in translation studies to date. The paper describes the type of material available for researchers and how this has been used. This is followed by a case study involving the detailed textual analysis of a translator’s drafts and revisions. The paper considers the value of such research methods in investigating the translation process and how they might complement and interact with other methodologies.

Table of contents

This paper discusses a process-oriented methodology based on primary sources that have very often been overlooked in translation studies: the analysis of literary translator papers, manuscripts and archives which give potentially unrivalled insights into translator decision-making. This type of analysis brings into play research methodologies from history and literary studies. The original purpose of the material is distinct from its role as an object of translational study, bearing out what Overbeck (1993, 63) says in relation to literary manuscripts: “[literary] scholars value such records for their primary or secondary relationship to study of the literary text, while the owner may view them simply as a record of business transacted.” Historians consider that such primary sources “are essentially ‘results’ [ p. 126 ]or ‘traces’ or ‘relics’ or ‘tracks’ of historical activity” (Grigg 1991, 231). In translation studies, they reveal some of the normally hidden traces of translatorial activity and are a real-time record of some of the translator’s decision-making processes.

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