Translator associations—from gatekeepers to communities

Anthony Pym
Universitat Rovira i Virgili / Stellenbosch University

Analysis of 217 associations for translators and/or interpreters shows that, after the heroic age of the generalist national and international groupings in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been a progressive specialization of associations. In rough chronological order, separate institutions have been created for literary translators, sworn/authorized translators and interpreters, conference interpreters, public-service interpreters and audiovisual translators. This process might be seen as a division of labor, a normal result of increasing memberships. Analysis of the communication strategies employed by the associations nevertheless suggests that there has been a profound shift in their very nature: from a model where the association ideally vouches for the professional trustworthiness of several thousands of members, thus implicitly speaking to clients and other professions, we find a tendency toward communication patterns where the association becomes a place for social, pedagogical and political action between its members. The greater density and plexity of the interactions means that the newer associations involve smaller groups of people, selected on the basis of either professional specialization or geographical proximity. Similar interactive models are found in online marketplaces for translations and in communities of volunteer translators, which prove to be innovative not only in promoting interactive communication but also in inventing new ways of signaling translators’ trustworthiness. A way forward for the traditional associations might be to adapt some of the communication strategies operative in the electronic marketplaces and among volunteers.

Table of contents

Calls for a sociology of translation have so far remained remarkably impervious to one of the most basic units of social organization: the formation of public associations. Associations would nevertheless seem extremely pertinent to translators and interpreters as an occupational group. As translators seek to create, affirm or [ p. 467 ]modify their collective identity and interests, one of the main things they do is join forces within a legal framework of some kind. The development of social market economies since the mid-nineteenth century has accompanied several kinds of professional associations, ranging from the trade union through to the learned society, and carrying out a very wide range of functions, from the protection of collective salary levels to the vetting of professional membership. In the field of translation (here taken to include interpreting), this range of forms and functions is very much in evidence. The aim of this paper is to map out the basic forms of what I will call “translator associations,” and to propose a general model of their historical development.

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