Professional translation between academic theory, best practice and market realities: a data-led investigation into practitioners’ experiences of their current working conditions

Luhrmann, Silke (2019) Professional translation between academic theory, best practice and market realities: a data-led investigation into practitioners’ experiences of their current working conditions. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Translation is, as Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked, “a difficult business”. With a growing global annual sales volume that currently exceeds US$ 46bn, it is also an extremely lucrative one. This PhD project is primarily an investigation into the “internal knowledge” of professional practitioners who make their living at the intersection between these two aspects of translation; who operate simultaneously in the “mnemonic time” of translation and the “instantaneous time” of globalisation, and on a daily basis negotiate between their own experience of translation as a process that takes as long as it takes – and, according to Translation Studies scholars, in a sense always remains provisional and unfinished – and their clients’ reliance on receiving complete and accurate translations by or before a pre-agreed deadline.

Quantitative and qualitative data obtained from a survey completed by 292 respondents from 33 different countries shows that, although almost 60 per cent of respondents define themselves as service providers, many perceive their work as translators – described as “the work itself”, “the actual work” or “the work as such” in a number of responses – as separate from, and less stressful than, their work as providers of translation services. This distinction, which is expressed most concisely in one respondent’s wish for “[l]ess paperwork, emails, negotiations – I would just like to translate” (emphasis added), appears to point beyond the simple difference between billable and non-billable work. While a number of respondents explicitly talk about their love or passion for “translating itself”, many are considerably less enamoured with the market environment that enables them to turn that passion into a livelihood. Time pressure emerges as a constant and near-ubiquitous issue that dominates many respondents’ experience of their professional practice and is inextricably linked to concerns about remuneration, work/life balance, mental and physical wellbeing and the standard of quality respondents feel able to deliver under these conditions. To compensate for growing pressure on rates, a substantial number report working longer hours and/or at greater speed than they would like to. As responses to survey questions about stress factors and enjoyment confirm, these concerns are frequently exacerbated by the feeling that clients who commission translations fail to appreciate the full of complexity of what translators actually do. Specifically, responses to survey questions about definitions of professional identity show that respondents were consistently more likely to ascribe reductive views of translators as service providers, suppliers or resources to their clients, and more likely to ascribe empowering and/or creative roles as language experts, knowledge workers, word artists or intercultural mediators to themselves.

It may also be the case that this is a mutual failure: that some professional translators themselves have a reductive view of their clients’ constraints and expectations unless there is sufficient opportunity, time, inclination and trust on both sides for meaningful dialogue beyond negotiating rates and deadlines. This can be difficult in a market dominated by profit-driven corporate language service providers (LSPs) whose business model relies on marginalising professional translators as service providers, vendors and translation resources.

My secondary research objective is to examine what can be done, and/or is already being done, by HE institutions, professional associations and other stakeholders to equip new and aspiring translators with the skills and resilience required to confront the working conditions described by survey respondents, and to offer proposals for new and existing models of best practice in translator education, e.g. situated learning under conditions that are as authentic as possible, mentorship schemes and other forms of collaboration between new and experienced professionals.

The thesis concludes with a speculative chapter that explores potential scenarios for the future of human translation in a market environment that is progressively geared towards eliminating the human element from translation workflows altogether.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2020 13:39
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2022 10:14


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