Some Thoughts About Think-Aloud Protocol

Candace Séguinot

Abstract

Empirical studies of the translation process have used think-aloud protocols to provide a window into the mental activity which is not directly observable. This paper reports on a protocol study in a natural discourse situation involving two professional translators and discusses the relevance of the data to the debate on the use of verbalization as a methodology. The protocol provides evidence of translation strategies and points to the need for a dynamic model of the translation process that takes into account activation, suppression, and attending mechanisms.

Table of contents

Think-aloud protocols have been associated with empirical studies in translation since some unpublished work by Brian Harris and widely understood as a possible methodology largely thanks to the study by Hans P. Krings (1986). In a recent exchange in the pages of Target, Harris (1992) and Krings (1992) rather ironically entered into a debate over the best way to study translation competence. The irony comes from the fact that both authors support empirical studies, yet were arguing for particular directions in research as though the [ p. 76 ]field is ready for limitations. In the exchange, Harris reaffirmed his 1977 position that natural translation should be the object of more study because, in his words (1992: 101), ". . . to study advanced forms of a skill before understanding how beginners do it is to build the house before digging the foundations ...". In much the same way, though I support protocol research, I will be arguing in this paper for a closing of some of the problematic gaps in protocol methodology. And I will be doing this in the context of a study also concerned with the issue of naturalism, though with respect to the experimental design rather than the choice of subjects.

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