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Theory of Translation

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Different Approaches to Translation Processes

Different Approaches to Translation Processes

By Iman Poostdoozan,
Islamic Azad University,
Fars Science and Research Branch, Shiraz, Iran
Researches on translation processes have been conducted on a relatively wide range of interests. The various interests in the studies can be regarded as an advantage. Different studies bring new aspects of translation processes, which result in giving us a better understanding of the translation process mechanisms. This article is aimed to explore different approaches to translation processes.
Key words
Translation processes, translation problems, linearity of translation process, units of translation, translation strategies, actions/interactions.
The nature of translation processes
If we are to begin an investigation into translation processes, we must first consider the nature of translation process itself. Malmkjær (2000, p. 163) points out that:
translation process may be used to designate a variety of phenomena, from the cognitive processes activated during translating, both conscious and unconscious, to the more physical process which begins when a client contacts a translation bureau and ends when that person declares satisfaction with the product produced as the final result of the initial inquiry.
In translation practice, of course, the cognitive aspects are expressed within the physical aspects. In his discussion of translation competence, Pym (2002, p. 9) says that the kinds of processes we are interested in are clearly as much social as they are cognitive. Kiraly (1997, p. 139) likewise presents his doubly articulated view of translation processes: from the translators perspective, looking outward toward the social situation in which professional translation occurs, and looking inward toward the mental processes going on in the individual translators mind during the production of a translation. The two aspects are then inseparable and, while some particular studies naturally tend to focus on just one of these perspectives, it is important not to lose sight of the other.
In using the term process of translation, House (2000, p. 150) points out that we must [] keep in mind that we are dealing here not with an isolable process but rather with a set of processes, a complex series of problem-solving and decision-making processes []. She further stresses that we can look upon the process as any number of operations performed by a translator while converting a source text into a translation text. Different attempts have been made to isolate the different sub-processes that make up the process of translation. Breedveld (2002a, 2002b), for example, lists the different activities that translators perform during the translation process, such as reading ST; commenting ST; evaluating ST; process plan; realize translation problem; producing TT; writing TT; reading TT; evaluating TT.
House (2000) believes that the selection and the sequence of the various operations that make up the translation process is conditioned by semantic, pragmatic, situation-specific and culture-specific constraints operating on two levels that of the source and that of the target language and also by the emergent translation text itself both in its physical realization and its on-line cognitive representation (2000, p. 150-151). Breedveld (2002b, p. 99) likewise agrees that the many different factors that affect the evolution of a translation process make it hard to speak about the translation process. Both House and Breedveld state that the variability is an important reason behind the difficulty of speaking about the translation process with the definite article and in singular. Breedveld thus stresses that not only will individuals differ in the ways they proceed in order to produce a translation, but they may also proceed differently according to the translation task they are confronted with.
Tirkkonen-Condit (2000, p. 123) voices a similar opinion by saying that no two processes are the same, even though the task is the same. Wilss (1996, p. 42) also states that translation is an activity that varies as we pass from one translator to the next, from one ST to the next, and from one TT readership to the next. Sguinot (1997, p. 104-105) elaborates this point by saying that:
different text types require different approaches, different people can translate the same text in different ways []. [D]ifferent levels of competence, familiarity with the material to be translated, as well as different interpretations of the nature of the assignment will lead to differences in processes and in the results. [E]ven more specifically, [there is] potential for variation within the individual, that is, the possibility of there being different pathways to access language, interpret it, and produce it.
Sguinot (1997) explains the variability by describing translation as a toolbox rather than algorithmic skill. A toolbox skill implies that there is a variety of choices, which depend on a number of things, including the nature of the assignment, the functions of the text, the translating ideology held by the individual or the institution initiating the request, as well as the pragmatics of the translating situation (1997, p. 109).
All these observations are important because they give us an idea of the complexity of the process that researchers are trying to investigate. There have been various attempts to distinguish between the different aspects of the process and describe them on the theoretical level. Thus Holmes (1988, p. 96; cited in Hönig, 1991, p. 77) describes translation as a multi-level process, suggesting that, while we are translating sentences, we have a map of the original text in our minds and at the same time a map of the kind of text we want to produce in the target language. This map, or the translators expectation structure (Kiraly, 1995, p. 65), an idea of what the target text will look like (Hönig and Kussmaul, 1998, p. 175; cited in Hansen, 2003, p. 28-29), or a vision of an optimal target text (Tirkkonen-Condit, 2000, p. 125) is seen as a goal in accordance with which individual decisions are made. The achievement of this goal, however, does not proceed in an orderly, linear fashion. In fact, there is evidence in empirical studies (e.g. Sguinot, 2000) to support the claim that the mental processes underlying translation [] leading to the target text occur in anything but a neatly organized linear fashion (Neubert, 1994, p. 415). Sguinot (2000, p. 146) suggests that there is parallel processing, meaning that the translator can be working on more than one item, structure, etc. at a time. She also mentions that all translation cannot be accounted for by a theory which likens the process to the biting off of a piece of text, chewing it, and spitting it out transformed (2000, p. 146). She thus proposes that it is consistent with the non-linearity and interactivity in this data (2000, p. 147).
Studies of translation processes have indicated that translators sometimes translate automatically; they feel a kind of flow [] enabling them to find better solutions without great effort. At other times they have to spend a lot of time thinking about a possible solution for a translation problem (Hansen, 2003, p. 27). Sometimes translators seem to be able to control their processes nearly automatically. On other occasions they encounter a lot of problems, making control a conscious act (Hansen, 2003, p. 28). Or, in the words of Neubert (1994, p. 416), highly creative jumps may alternate with run of the mill routines. Kiraly (1997, p. 152) makes a similar point, saying that any translator working with any given text may process in a more-or-less intuitive and a more-or-less strategic manner, depending on familiarity with the topic, experience in dealing with similar texts in the past, the specificity of the task description, and so on. He observed the presence of what he terms relatively intuitive and relatively strategic processes in all the subjects he studied (1997, p. 149).
The question of conscious versus unconscious processing is indeed one of the central themes in research into translation processes. The fact that additional terms, such as automatic, controlled, uncontrolled, routine, non-routine, intuitive and strategic are also used makes the situation even more complex.
In this respect, Hönig (1991, p. 80) distinguishes between the controlled workspace and the uncontrolled workspace. The former is the location where all those mental-cognitive processes take place which find their way into thinking-aloud protocols. According to Hönig, the processes taking place in the two workspaces are interdependent, and they are both (ideally) governed by a macro-strategy. Hönig (1991, p. 81) stresses that the terms intuitive/cognitive are not appropriate in the sense of forming a dichotomy, because of a phenomenon which I have termed cognitive/intuitive chains. The latter are an uncoordinated sequence of intuitive and cognitive steps, so that the whole chain could be termed neither intuitive nor cognitive. Hönig (1991, p. 81) further points out that the processes involved cannot be properly called subconscious, either:
They are conscious in the sense that the translator knows that they are taking place and relies on them taking place automatically. They are subconscious, however, in the sense that they happen to the translator without him/her being able to give a detailed and complete account of them.
According to Kiraly (1997, p. 151), conscious and subconscious processes do not necessarily form a dichotomy either. He prefers to speak of relatively controlled vs. relatively automatic processes (1995, p. 86-87). The model of the translators mind that he proposes consists of (a) sources of information, including long-term memory, source text input and external resources, (b) the intuitive workspace, which is relatively uncontrolled and subconscious, and (c) the controlled processing center, the relatively conscious mental space where strategies are applied (1997, p. 149). According to this model, two main products emerge from the intuitive workspace, tentative translation elements and translation problems. The former are unverified products of spontaneous associations at the workspace level (1997, p. 51). They can either bypass the controlled processing center or be subjected to one of two types of monitoring: target language monitoring [] and monitoring of coherence with the translators understanding of the original text. Translation problems, on the other hand, emerge from the intuitive workspace when automatic processing is incapable of producing tentative translation elements. These problems are brought into the focus of attention in the controlled processing center, and a strategy is chosen and implemented in an attempt to deal with them (ibid.). Strategies may involve sending the problem back to the intuitive workspace, and if this is unable to produce a solution that will match the translators expectation structure, a tentative element will be proposed. This element may be accepted or rejected, in which case the whole search procedure will begin again. Alternatively, the problematic element may be dropped altogether.
(Non)-linearity of translation processes
Campbell (2001, p. 31) warns that when we visualize mental processing models we tend to be seduced by the notion of serial processing that is so familiar to us from our knowledge of electronic computing. It has been argued, on the other hand, that translation can proceed in a non-linear fashion. Sguinot (2000, p. 146) observed that the progress of the translation is much more complex than a linear progression or even a series of procedures for arriving at equivalences where the structures do not coincide. Her study of translation processes of two professional translators who regularly work together revealed that translation can be iterative, meaning that though a translation is arrived at the mind continues to look for alternatives and comes back to the same item or structure [] certain terms are brought up over and over (ibid.). Neubert (1994, p. 415) makes a similar point when he says that the mental processes underlying translation and the linguistic implementation leading to the target text occur in anything but a neatly organized linear fashion.
Other researchers have nevertheless observed the opposite to be the case. Kiraly (1995, p. 87), for example, found that his subjects progressed through the text in a basically linear fashion, producing translation solutions for individual elements as they appeared sequentially in the text. There was little backtracking to previous units in the source or target text. A very similar observation is found in Jensen (1999, p. 111): The informants progressed through the text in a basically linear fashion, producing translation solutions for individual elements as they appeared in the text. Most editing during translation took place while the text element was still in focus.
In comparative studies, researchers have nevertheless been able to observe that some subjects proceeded in a more (or less) linear way than others. In this respect, Krings (1986; cited in Kiraly, 1995, p. 48) found that the professional proceeded in a more concentric fashion through the text, as opposed to the linear progression of the nonprofessional. Tirkkonen-Condit (1997, p. 79), basing her observation on the studies by Jääskeläinen (1990), Krings (1988) and Laukkanen (1997), states that research has shown that ambitious translators tend to work in a spiral kind of fashion: they do not try to solve all problems at once but leave problematic points open and come back to them over and over again until a feasible solution emerges. Dancette (1997, p. 102) found that the best performers have a larger range of avoidance strategies that allow them to go on with the translation and to set the problem aside. They come back to it as they are working on other segments.
Problems and units of translation
Translation processes have been considered as problem-solving activities (e.g. Lörscher, 1993; Tirkkonen-Condit, 2000; Sirn and Hakkarainen, 2002; Dancette, 1997). Therefore, one possible way to look at the various elements the translator deals with during a task is in terms of translation problems. We can look at the number and type of problems encountered, and the ways in which these problems are dealt with. These problem spots are particularly interesting in research such as ours, which aims to improve translator training. For Pym, translational competence
only really concerns situations in which there is doubt, in which there are alternatives, in which there is the possibility of rendering a term in more than one way. [...] Only in situations of doubt, when we have more than one available model, do we have to theorise in order to help us translate. (1993, p. 29)
As Sirn and Hakkarainen (2002, p. 76) explain, in translation studies, problem most often refers to different textual elements which cannot be translated without deliberation, if at all. [] Problem-solving, then, refers to such deliberation and rendering a textual element (or omitting it).
The term problem, however, might be full of negative connotations. For this reason, some scholars argue that such a focus on problems might have some adverse consequences. Sguinot (2000, p. 144) explains that labeling all points at which the translation seems non-automatic in the same way has the disadvantage of investing the source text with the difficulty. Jääskeläinen (1993, p. 102) gives another reason for avoiding problem-orientedness: The process features that seemed to illustrate the most significant inter-individual differences were not necessarily related to translation problems in the traditional sense. She wanted to include in her analysis those instances where attention was required, in which an unproblematic decision was made. Jakobsen (1999, p. 15) makes a similar point, saying that something that is not a translation problem is as interesting or uninteresting as something that is.
Instead of problems, Jääskeläinen chooses attention units as a concept suitable for her analysis. Attention units are defined (1990, p. 173; cited in 1993, p. 102) as those instances in the translation process in which the translators unmarked processing is interrupted by shifting the focus of attention onto particular task-relevant aspects. Therefore translators can interrupt their unmarked processing, defined as effortless or uncontrolled processing, such a reading aloud the ST or producing a fluent, uninterrupted translation of a[n] ST item or passage (ibid.), to make either a problematic or an unproblematic decision. Problems can here be seen to be a subset of attention units. Kiraly (1995, p. 86) distinguishes between problem units and nonproblem units. But for him, the former are those that required cognitive attention and the application of conscious or potentially conscious strategies, while the latter are those whose solutions came from intuition and spontaneous association, apparently without the intervention of problem-solving strategies.
All of these, of course, are closely related to ones definition of problem. We will now look at some of the definitions of problems and attention units found in the literature.
According to Lorenzo (1999, p. 128), problems are those elements for which the translator presents more than one possible translation or whose solution is expressly reasoned or argued. This definition is very similar to Sguinots (2000, p. 144) notion of negotiated meaning, which she defines as those instances where translation does not occur automatically. The translator is aware of the meaning in the source text and considers alternatives or actively chooses to deviate from the source text. But, she points out, what it does not include is language learners problems, i.e. the translator whose knowledge of the source language is inadequate. However, the distinction between language learners problems and other types of problems may not be as straightforward as this definition seems to imply.
Sirn and Hakkarainen (2002, p. 77) take their definition from Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993, p. 83), who characterize problem as any non-routine purposeful activity and according to whom problem does not necessarily refer to something serious or very difficult. This leads Sirn and Hakkarainen to ask an important question: Can a task be a problem, if it can be executed effortlessly and fast, even more or less automatically? As it is pointed out above, for Jääskeläinen both problematic and unproblematic decisions interrupt the unmarked or uncontrolled processing, while for Kiraly, nonproblem units are dealt with automatically. Livbjerg and Mees (2002, p. 161) also define problem with regard to conscious awareness: Our definition of a problem is very broad, meaning only that the unit in question was raised to the level of consciousness. For them, verbalization could thus be anything from the expression of worry or dissatisfaction concerning a chosen solution to proclaiming satisfaction with it.
According to Sirn and Hakkarainen (2002, p. 77), from the point of view of cognitive psychology, entire tasks and hence the whole translation assignment are regarded as problems. There are two types, well-defined and ill-defined (also termed well-structured and ill-structured). The former can be presented unambiguously, have clear solution paths and most often only one correct solution. Translation tasks are illdefined problems in that commissions or assignments are not unambiguous with only one possible interpretation and solution (2002, p. 77-78). In translation problems, there are no clear solution paths from the initial to the final stage (ibid.).
Livbjerg and Meess (2002, 2003) definition of a translation problem or unit as seen from the perspective of the participating subjects seems particularly useful:
A translation unit is any word or phrase in the text, or any aspect of such a word or phrase, which is verbalized by any single participant and for which he or she expresses any degree of doubt about its proper translation. For example, we found that a single [source text] word may in fact represent as many as four units. (Livbjerg and Mees, 2003, p. 129)
As Neubert (1994, p. 415) observes, the translators competence acts upon text segments of varying sizes. Therefore, the size of attention units can be considered as one of the features according to which protocols are analyzed. Kiraly (1995, p. 86) states that the majority of the units translated by the subjects were at the word and word string level. Only on rare occasions did the subjects consider linkages between sentences while translating. There were also few overt references to the text level.
Behaviors, strategies and actions/interactions
If translation is seen as a problem-solving process, the means for solving those problems are often conceived of as strategies. Lörscher (1991, p. 76) defines a translation strategy as a potentially conscious procedure for the solution of a problem which an individual is faced with when translating a text segment from one language into another. For him, therefore, problem-orientedness, potential consciousness and goal-orientedness are the central features of translation strategies. This view, however, has been criticized by Jääskeläinen (1993, p. 106) on two counts. One is that it is clearly designed to describe problem-solving strategies, not unproblematic processing of the task. As we have mentioned above, Jääskeläinen found unproblematic processing, or making of unproblematic decisions just as interesting as problematic. For her, unlike Lörscher, unproblematic decision-making is also strategic behavior. Secondly, Jääskeläinen (1993, p. 109) avoids describing strategies as potentially conscious, as this is not always possible to measure. She points out that while unconscious processing cannot be accessed via verbal report procedures, it can, however, be studied by observing behavior.
Dancette (1997, p. 89), furthermore, makes a distinction between strategies, behaviors and processes:
We call behavior an action or a series of actions carried out by the subject whether or not they lead to a result. [] We call strategy a series of ordered behaviors, consciously called upon to solve a problem. For example, a systematic or purposeful exploration of the text to seek a second occurrence of a given term implies a strategy. [] We define process as a series of mental operations carried out by a subject, consciously or not, to complete a task.
She then points out that, in studying verbal protocols, behaviors are the primary data. They are an indication of the process, but they do not describe its totality; they reveal only the tip of the iceberg (1997, p. 91). Strategies are seen as a subset of behaviors in that they are ordered, conscious, systematic or purposeful.
According to Kiraly (1997, p. 151), strategies do not solve translation problems they are merely plans that can be implemented in an attempt to solve problems. This view of strategies is similar to that of Chesterman (1998, p. 141): strategies are ways of solving / plans to solve problems. Chesterman further stresses that strategies often contain an element of optimality: a strategy is typically deemed to be a good way of solving a problem, an efficient way, the most appropriate way, or the like (ibid.).
Jääskeläinen (1993, p. 111) makes an important point that this optimality will be subjective optimality, which emphasizes the translators central role as decision maker.
Various scholars have attempted to classify translation strategies. Krings (1986), for example, defines translation strategies as potentially conscious plans for solving a translation and suggests that these translators behaviors can be categorized as translation strategies such as equivalent retrieval (intra-lingual or inter-lingual), equivalent monitoring (comparing source text and target text), decision-making (deciding between two solutions), comprehension (using reference books) and reduction (marked or metaphorical text portions).
Mondhal and Jensen (1996) emphasize the difference between production and evaluation strategies in their study of lexical search in translation process. Production was divided further into achievement, which consist of spontaneous association and reformulation, and reduction strategies, which consist of avoidance and unmarked reproduction of marked items. Lastly evaluation strategies are formed of reflecting on the adequacy and acceptability of translation equivalents (Mondhal and Jensen, 1996).
What is interesting are the concepts of global vs. local strategies (found e.g. in Lörscher, 1993, p. 209; Jääskeläinen, 1993, p. 115). In professional translators, global strategies chosen (explicitly or implicitly) at the beginning of the translation task have been observed to govern the local decisions. Nonprofessionals have been reported to focus more on problems of a local kind [] whereas the professionals are primarily concerned with global, formulating problems (Lörscher, 1993, p. 209).
An example of classification of local strategies can be found in Sguinot (1996, p. 79). According to her, local strategies can be divided into four kinds, based on function: interpersonal strategies, search strategies, inferencing strategies, and monitoring strategies. Sguinot divides search strategies into external (use of external resources, such as dictionaries, the internet, etc.) and internal searches. In relation to internal searches, Kussmaul (1991, p. 95) uses the term fluency to describe the ability to produce a large number of thoughts, associations or ideas for a given problem in a short space of time.
Regarding monitoring strategies, some researchers have observed that subjects with a higher degree of translational proficiency or more experience make target text evaluations which are more specific than non-professionals. Kovacic (2000, p. 101), for example, remarks that more experienced translators were more specific and more articulate in their evaluative judgments, the protocols differed both in the quantity (or, more significantly, ratio) of evaluative versus other statements and the presence of an addressee. Tirkkonen-Condit (1997, p. 69) postulates the following two tentative hypotheses: that the proportion and specificity of evaluations of the target text increases with translational proficiency, and that expressives [expressive language] reveal attitudinal differences attributable to different levels of proficiency.
González-Davies model of competence development may seem beneficial in this respect. She distinguishes four stages: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. At the third, conscious competence stage the learners know when they are doing well and why. [] Decisions are made, and problem spotting and solving skills are developed along with a global idea of the task and its possible outcomes (2004, p. 40). At the fourth, unconscious competence stage, however, they do well but sometimes cannot explain why: most of the skills have been internalized along with the knowledge and strategies necessary for a top performance (ibid.). Individuals vary in the extent to which they can retrace their steps from the last level backwards a quality especially important for translation teachers.
It seems likely that subjects, who find themselves on the third level of competence, as defined above, might be able to have the highest awareness of their processes and therefore be able to explain the reasons behind their decisions in most specific terms. The same could be said of individuals who, although passed that stage, are still able to retrace their steps. It seems reasonable to assume that there are a lot of highly skilled translators who are not able to justifying their choices. This may be especially the case of translators who have worked only, or mostly, into their L1 and have relied generally on their native competence rather than on explicitly learned rules. Hansen (2003, p. 35), therefore, points out that:
Over many years I have observed that it is much easier for our students to comment on and revise translations into a foreign language than translations into their mother tongue, and they prefer doing so. The reason might be that they have learnt the foreign language consciously, and have acquired the terminology to describe potential problems.
In any case, dealing with strategic vs. non-strategic behavior will present the researcher with a practical as much as a conceptual problem. One way out of thesituation is likely to take a step backwards and leave strategies aside for the moment. Instead, the translation process could be described in terms of Strauss and Corbins actions/interactions. For these two authors, working in the realm of social science, process is described as
[] a series of evolving sequences of action/interaction that occur over time and space, changing or sometimes remaining the same in response to the situation or context. The action/interaction may be strategic, taken in response to problematic situations, or may be quite routine, carried out without much thought. It may be orderly, interrupted, sequential, or coordinated or, in some cases, a complete mess. What makes action/interaction process is its evolving nature and its varying forms, rhythms, and pacing all related to some purpose. (Strauss and Corbin 1998, p. 165)
Therefore, actions/interactions can be considered as the responses whether strategic or routine to problematic situations which, when applied to translation, can be framed in terms of whole translation tasks or individual problems on the micro-level.
This article tried to outline some basic challenges of defining the process or, more appropriately, processes of translation. They are alternatively or even at the same time conscious and unconscious, routine and creative, social and cognitive, controlled and uncontrolled. They are furthermore characterized by inherent variability on all levels.
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