The professional backgrounds of translation scholars. Report on a survey

Esther Torres-Simón and Anthony Pym

A survey of 305 translation scholars shows that some 96 percent of them have translated or interpreted “on a regular basis,” with translation/interpreting being or having been a main or secondary activity for 43 percent of the scholars. Translation scholars would also seem to be particularly mobile (71 percent have spent more than one year in a country other than their own) and come from diverse academic and professional backgrounds (33 percent were not engaged in translation and interpreting in their mid-twenties). These figures indicate that translation scholars not only have considerable practical experience of translation but also come from a wide range of occupational and cultural backgrounds. Asked about desirable relations between scholarly work and professional practice, respondents indicated benefits for both sides (although a slight majority stressed a unidirectional relationship where scholarly work benefits from professional practice), and teaching is often indicated as the link between the two. However, about a quarter of the scholars indicated that there need not be a relationship between scholarship and professional practice.

Table of contents

Practicing translators and interpreters tend to have remarkably little regard for those who carry out research on their activities. In Chris Durban’s booklet Translation. Getting it Right, A Guide to Buying Translation (revised edition 2011, 15) we find a huge warning sign: “Teachers, academics & students: at your own risk,” which not only assumes that academics and teachers are in the same boat as their students, but that none of the three groups really knows how to translate. Only slightly less acerbic are presuppositions like Peter Newmark’s quip, adapted from Shaw’s libel against teachers: “Those who can, write; those who cannot, translate; those who cannot translate, write about translation” (Newmark 1988, 2). A few less trenchant asides can be found in the dialogue between Andrew Chesterman and Emma Wagner (2002), remarkable because the two authors write as if they had completely different occupations, one as an academic, the other as an translator, with scant room for anything like the “practisearcher,” the practitioner who also researches, identified by Gile (1994, 150) some 20 years ago. The underlying mésentente is still mostly couched in terms of “practice” versus “theory,” as if the institutionalization of Translation Studies had not been based on two further activities, namely research and training, which should serve to complicate the traditional dichotomy. And even when those middle terms are recognized, the mantras then occasionally become that research is on unrealistic issues and trainees are not prepared for market realities, such that the underlying charge remains that those who investigate and teach have not sufficiently worked as real translators or real interpreters.

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