Translation studies? Many would question the need for studies of something that they see as a quite straightforward process. For one, you ‘simply’ have to transfer one language into another. And two, doesn’t everybody speak or just understand the English language these days?
But as explained elsewhere, translation is actually a complex, interdisciplinary process. It requires not just a knowledge of two or more languages. It also demands a solid, if not extensive knowledge of a number of other fields and disciplines.
Also, as The University of Exeter in England explains, the reality is “that not everybody can speak English, fewer still are able to speak it well enough to communicate effectively, and perhaps even more importantly: language is much more than the communication of words. It is also an expression of culture, society, and belief.”
Still, some beliefs are hard to change, and as the same University notes,” it was not until the twentieth century that Translation Studies emerged as a formal academic discipline.” This came about with the academic paper by James S. Holmes, an American scholar based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His study “The name and nature of translation studies” was published only in 1972.
So what are translation studies? The University of Exeter says that “translation Studies is the field of study that deals with the theory, description, and application of translation. It examines translation not only as an interlingual transfer but also as intercultural communication. In that manner, it can also be described as an interdisciplinary which touches on other diverse fields of knowledge, including comparative literature, cultural studies, gender studies, computer science, history, linguistics, philosophy, rhetoric, and semiotics.”
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This post was updated in April 2021
What do translation studies deal with?
Translation studies examine translation from two aspects. One is its applied practice of translating (and interpreting) one language into another. The other aspects are the examination of translation “as a means of understanding the movement and transfer between diverse languages and cultures.”
Translation studies (TS) deals with the following elements:
- the practical experiences of the translator;
- it explores from theoretical and methodological perspectives the history and philosophy of translation;
- TS also examines current trends in the field;
- Translation Studies may examine the practices and context of translating specialist texts (legal, business, medical, etc.);
- it explores the art of translation as a creative act in literary translation and international marketing.
In some, if aspects, TS can explore “how issues of culture, power, gender, ethics medium affect the act of translating. The study of these enables students to apply their theoretical understanding to the approaches, techniques, and choices that are used daily as a practicing translator (above).
The study itself doesn’t differ much from any other academic field. It includes “analysis of key texts, enabling students to develop an awareness of the problems of understanding and interpretation. It also involves the development of the analytical, practical, evaluative, aesthetic, and expository skills required to address translation problems. Finally, it includes the development of research skills, practical translation skills, and the ability to develop strategies for managing complex linguistic and cultural transactions.” (above)
There are a number of theoretical approaches to TS, and these include:
- equivalence, with a Russian and French concept and interpretative theory of translation;
- descriptive translation studies, “which aims at building an empirical descriptive discipline”;
- Skoops theory, “which gives priority to the purpose to be fulfilled by the translation instead of prioritizing equivalence”;
- cultural translation, “a concept used in cultural studies to denote the process of transformation, linguistic or otherwise, in a given culture.”
Other aspects of translation studies
The fact that TS looks at translation from a number of aspects has brought up a number of fields within the studies themselves. These include an interdisciplinary approach that shows how complex the translation process can be. These fields include:
- sociologies of translation – “the study of who translators are, what their forms of work are (workplace studies), and what data on translations can say about the movements of ideas between languages;”
- postcolonial translation studies look at translations between a metropolis and former colonies, or within complex former colonies;
- gender studies- look at the sexuality of translators, at the gendered nature of the texts they translate, at the possibly gendered translation processes employed, and at the gendered metaphors used to describe translation;
- ethics in translation, or the ethical responsibility of translators and translation;
- audiovisual translation studies (AVT) is concerned with a translation that takes place in audio and/or visual settings, such as the cinema, television, video games and also some live events such as opera performances;
- localization concerns “the way the contemporary language industries translate and adapt (“localize”) technical texts across languages, tailoring them for a specific “locale” (a target location defined by language variety and various cultural parameters);”
- non-professional translation, which refers to the translation activities performed by translators who are not working professionally, usually in ways made possible by the Internet.
There is also a number of other fields that are part of TS. Those include translator education and interpreting studies as a sister study. Also, cognition and process studies, translation technologies (and tools) and future prospects of translation.
Looking at the above, it is no wonder that Canada’s York University lists at least 33 career options for prospective students of translation studies. The list goes from an author to UN Representative.
Real-world application of TS
Any academic study can tend to become too theoretical and become a bit devoid of application in real life. But, if it properly examines and explains its subject matter it can make sense to people who potentially need translation as a service.
For non-academics, sociologies of translation or postcolonial translation studies might not have much application in real life. On the other hand, those doing business, particularly online, application of audio-visual translation or localization studies can certainly help.
Still, there is a more general scale to translation studies. As the University of Exeter (above) notes, the global economy can benefit from translation studies in more than one way. Companies can “ take advantage of the lower cost of products and services in some countries, the professional and industrial expertise of others, and additional markets to trade in.”
“When they trade in countries with a different native language, they need high-quality translation to communicate effectively. Then, there’s a demand for translation there are opportunities for translators. When there’s a demand for translators, there’s a demand for Translation Studies.”
“Translation enables effective communication between people around the world. It is a courier for the transmission of knowledge. It is also a protector of cultural heritage, and essential to the development of a global economy. Highly skilled translators are key. Translation Studies helps practitioners develop those skills.”
On an even wider scale, “translation is necessary for the spread of information, knowledge, and ideas. It is absolutely necessary for effective and empathetic communication between different cultures. Translation, therefore, is critical for social harmony and peace.”
Translation studies as a basis for translation services business
Business publication Inc.a few years back examined translation services as a profitable business proposition. Its research has solid grounds in the necessity and effectiveness of translation studies.
They note the fact that companies like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo are “ all vying for social dominance by adding users worldwide.” To that effect, Inc. quotes Rick Antezana, a partner with Seattle-based translation provider Dynamic Language. Antenzana said that “translation factors in because every aspect of their services must be comprehensive”.
“More than ever, companies of every size are looking to expand their market and to engage with customers on a deeper level,” he says, noting the $35 billion in revenue the space generated in 2013. “Consumers worldwide want everything on their own terms, and that includes a preference for communicating in their own language.”
On the other hand, Phil Shawe, co-founder, and CEO of TransPerfect told them that for his company the sweet spot is e-commerce. “Retailers overseas may be giants in their own neighborhoods, but when they expand out, they’re virtually unknown and need to work hard to introduce themselves.”
According to Common Sense Advisory(CSA), the global market for outsourced language services will increase to US$56.18 billion by 2021. This is yet another indicator of why translation studies play an important part in current academia. At the same time, it underlines its importance and applications in real-life situations.
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