Interview with Douglas Robinson, author of Becoming a Translator

Interviewer: Reed James                                                  Versión en Español

RJ:        Hello Doug and welcome to Spanish Language Gateway.

DR:        Thanks!

        Do you translate? If so, what languages do you work with?

DR:        I've been translating to and from Finnish since 1975. That's the only language I translate from professionally, but I've also done occasional work from Russian, German, and Spanish.

:        Many translators and clients say that translators should only translate into their native language. Others provide valid arguments against this contention such as expertise, linguistic ability and scarcity of native speakers of the target language. What is your view?

DR:        I think the purist's view, that you should only ever translate into the L1, is naïve. Not only is there a great need for translation into the L2 in many sectors of the translation marketplace, but there are many many translators who do it brilliantly. The fact that there are also many who do it badly is no argument against it; there are many who translate into the L1 badly as well.

How important do you think terminology management is for translators (i.e. compiling glossaries, terminology databases, purchasing specialized books and electronic resources)? Should they invest much time and money in these resources even when they are busy?

DR:        It's absolutely essential for professional translators. People who translate for fun can choose for themselves whether they want to invest time and money in it.

Many "old school" translators shun the use of CAT tools and other computer resources. They prefer to proofread hard copy printouts of their work and use the computer as a word processor and e-mail machine and not much else. Translators who started their careers in the last ten years or so, on the other hand, tend to embrace technology and speak wonders of CAT tools. What is your opinion on the use of technology and how it may positively or negatively affect translators' work?

DR:         A lot of this depends on your volume in a particular domain. As a translator from a language of lesser diffusion, I've never had the luxury of specializing in a specific domain, which has made TM (translation-memory) software not worth the money for me. But see my article "Cyborg Translation".

        Do you advocate a universal translator training method for all language pairs, or do you see translating between specific language pairs needing separate methods?

DR:        I don't advocate a universal anything. All translator training is and must be aimed at specific tasks.

What are your views on the Spanish <> English language pair? Is it harder or easier for translators to cope with these languages and this particular market as opposed to other language pairs?

DR:        I know this field only by reputation.

        I have heard different opinions on what country a translator should live in according to his or her source language. Which do you think is better: living a country where the source language or the target language is spoken? Why?

DR:        Each side has its advantages. If you live in the source culture and the target language is your L1, you have abundant access to informants on the source text and your own native knowledge of the target language. If you live in the target culture, and it's your native country, you have abundant access to informants on the target language, and are much more fully grounded in the styles and registers of that language. In my case, I lived in Finland for 14 years, created a client base there, then moved back to the US, and had to start over building a client base; but at least I had numerous contacts in Finland that I could rely on in figuring out what something meant in a given source text.

        In Becoming a Translator, you talk about procedural memory, i.e. the kind of memory you rely on to do things automatically like tie your shoes or certain aspects of driving a car. I was particularly intrigued by this concept. Do you know of any exercises for translators to enhance their procedural memory?

DR:        That whole book is designed to accelerate the process by which the transfer from SL to TL phrasings becomes procedural memory-mostly through visualization.

        Another point that I took to heart after reading Becoming a Translator was that documents are written by people and do not stop at the print on the screen. You talk about studying the types of people who write the documents we translate such as attorneys and businesspeople. Now that a few years have passed since the book was written, do you know of any web links where translators can see these people in action (e.g. YouTube)?

DR:        I don't, no, but YouTube is only one of many places we turn for such documents.

        In your experience, is speech recognition (Dragon NaturallySpeaking and other software) a help or a hindrance for translation?

DR:        It's never done much for me. I tend to be a creature of the written word. But that's not to say it isn't extremely useful for other translators.

        On many discussion forums, some translators say that machine translation will take over some of human translators' tasks. When, if ever do you see this happening? Do you think it will have a negative effect on translators and their income?

DR:        It's already happened. TM software has taken over the task of remembering words without looking them up. My argument in "Cyborg Translation" is that "strong MT" (high-quality domain-unrestrained machine translation without human pre- or post-editing) will never happen, but that the human-machine interface-cyborg translation-is an essential part of every professional translator's life (and revenue stream).

Thank you for your time, Doug. My readers and I truly appreciate this opportunity.

DR:        My pleasure!
Doug Robinson has been a freelance translator between Finnish and English since 1975. He lived in Finland 1971-1972, 1974-1981, and 1983-1989, and was acting associate professor of English-Finnish Translation Theory and Practice in the Department of Translation Studies at the University of Tampere 1987-1989. He is past president of the Finnish-American Translators Association and vice president of the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association, and Finnish-English language chair in the accreditation program at the American Translators Association. Professor of English at the University of Mississippi since 1989, he is author of The Translator's Turn (1991), Translation and Taboo (1996), Becoming a Translator (1997), Translation and Empire (1997), Western Translation Theory from Herodotus to Nietzsche (1997), What Is Translation? Centrifugal Theories, Critical Interventions (1995), Who Translates? Translator Subjectivities Beyond Reason (2001), and Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things With Words (2003).