Conflicting discourses of translation assessment and the discursive construction of the ‘assessor’ role in cyberspace

Ji-Hae Kang


This article explores the ways in which translation assessment is discursively constructed by readers participating in an online translation debate. Focusing on a controversy over the Korean translation of Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Steve Jobs, it examines how readers participating in a translation debate in Daum Agora, the largest online discussion forum in South Korea, enact the ‘assessor’ role in evaluating the translation. Drawing on the concepts of ‘social role,’ ‘activity role,’ and ‘discourse role,’ I argue that online translation assessors perform the discourse roles of ‘expert-judge,’ ‘activist,’ and ‘assessment evaluator.’ The findings suggest that translation assessment in cyberspace is a subjective, contextualizing process where value, meaning, and function are often a matter of uptake. Furthermore, discourse-based approaches may play critical roles in examining translation assessment in cyberspace as a socially situated act that involves an intricate negotiation of meaning, complex workings of power, and a reconstitution of local social positioning within global cultural flows.

Table of contents

While systematic models and persuasive discussions have led to many fruitful research projects related to translation assessment, especially in the field of translator training, many translation scholars still consider assessment as subjective, controversial, and/or ad hoc (cf. Nord 1997; Maier 2000; House 2001; Colina 2013). Translation quality has been regarded by many as elusive, making it extremely difficult for any researcher to define in concrete terms what a ‘good’ translation is. The divergence in opinion may also be related to different conceptualizations or [ p. 455 ]theorizing of translation. As House (2008, 222) convincingly argues, “[t]ranslation quality assessment presupposes a theory of translation” and “[d]ifferent views of translation itself lead to different concepts of translational quality, and hence different ways of assessing it.” Furthermore, the distinct contexts in which assessment occurs add to the complexity of the discussion. Assessment research typically addresses one of three areas: criticism of published translations, assessment of professional translation work, and evaluation in a teaching environment (Martínez Melis and Hurtado Albir 2001). Different types of assessment are often grouped under the single category of ‘translation assessment.’

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