Translation Process Research Workshop 2016

Translation Process Research Workshop logo
Fifth meeting of group held in Graz, 1-3 December 2016

The fifth meeting of the Translation Process Research Workshop (TPRW5) was held in Graz from 1 to 3 December 2016. The Workshop was organised by Hanna Risku and her ExTra – Extended Translation project team, Regina Rogl and Jelena Milošević, from the University of Graz. TPRWs are annual events where a core group of translation process researchers gather to discuss their work, alongside invited guests.

The local host chooses the theme and invites scholars from outside the group. This year the focus was socio-cognitive approaches and workplace research, which is why I was invited to take part. I was one of several scholars reporting on research in the translation workplace, and I chose to discuss the concept of knowing-in-practice, with illustration from my fieldwork in the translation department of a research organisation. Other papers concerned translation process research (TPR), done mostly in experimental settings to investigate various aspects of cognitive processing, competence and expertise development. Elisabet Tiselius, from Stockholm University, was the only colleague to focus on interpreting processes.

Focus on socio-cognitive research

The opening session on the ExTra project set the scene very well for socio-cognitive approaches. Funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), this is a multiple case study using observations and interviews to study the work of freelance and in-house translators and project managers employed in a variety of translation company settings. In terms of methods and areas of focus, my own work is similar, also including a range of different configurations of translation companies and translation departments, though I have not yet worked with freelance translators. The theoretical foundation for the ExTra project is provided by theories of situated cognition, while my work draws principally on practice theory. However, we were able to identify many points of similarity in our observations of workplace practices.

One of the reasons I haven’t yet tried to organise any observations of freelance translators is my concern that extended periods of observation where they work, i.e. in their homes, might seem overly intrusive. However, Waltraud Kolb’s project, at the University of Vienna, offered some food for thought on this issue. Waltraud asked five experienced, freelance literary translators to translate a short story by Hemingway, in their normal workplaces, and she was able to find out quite a lot about how they organised and carried out their work without being present, by using keystroke logging and asking the translators to audio-record their verbalisations as they worked. It was also possible to get an insight into the overlaps between work and home life, some of which were captured through the recordings.

Ethnographic approach

An example of a more explicitly ethnographic approach was given by Daniel Pedersen from Aarhus University. In his doctoral project, Daniel used participant observation to study the management of transcreation projects within a company offering both translation and transcreation services. It was clear from his presentation that the practices of managing transcreation projects are somewhat different from managing translation projects. I was particularly interested to hear about the collaborative aspects and I plan to read Daniel’s PhD to find out more. The growth of transcreation as a service that is differentiated in various ways from translation is a fascinating phenomenon in itself, since it says a lot about how translation has generally been construed by clients and LSPs, as well as being clearly related to the economic and social conditions of translation work.

Workplace processes and conditions

An interesting hybrid methodological approach could be seen in the research reported by Sharon O’Brien and Carlos Teixeira from Dublin City University. They used the classic TPR tools of eye tracking and screen recording, but in the workplace. This means that the 10 translators who took part were working at their own desks, with their own equipment, apart from the addition of the fairly unobtrusive eye tracker under one monitor, and a laptop with camera to record their facial expressions. This more or less naturalistic setting was  combined with some experimental conditions, in that the translators were given a specific text to translate, but how they went about it, what tools they used, etc. was not controlled. Indeed, one of the aims of the research was to find out how they used their TM software and what other software they used alongside it, so that potential improvements in TM and tools interfaces could be identified, based on workplace usage.

Workplace conditions were central to the paper by Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow and Gary Massey from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) on organisational ergonomics. This was also a good example of how rich, qualitative data can be revisited to help answer questions that were not necessarily part of the original research project. Maureen and Gary were interested in knowing what kinds of constraints translators experience in their work, in institutional, commercial and freelance settings. They had the idea of tracing translators’ experiences of constraints by returning to some previously produced interviews and commentaries on translation processes to look for deontic modality in the translators’ discourse. This approach worked very well, and they were able to combine this with data from another project in order to identify constraints experienced by translators, related to clients, colleagues, resources and tools, and positive, negative and stressful aspects of their work, i.e. organisational ergonomic issues.

Combining social and cognitive?

I’ve written here only about research focusing on sociological aspects, but I found the reports on TPR experiments insightful too. These have evolved a lot since I worked with very basic think-aloud protocols twenty years ago! A few colleagues looked back at the development of TPR, noting how early TPR often revolved around problem-solving and presumed indicators of problems (like pauses). This focus can still be seen but researchers now also work on what happens in instances when translating is not obviously problematic, and what other function pauses can have, among other questions. Colleagues are also drawing productively with insights from other disciplines, an example being Erik Angelone and Álvaro Marín García’s study of perceptions of expertise in the workplace and discussion of the concept of expertise. Sandra Halverson, from Bergen University College, proposed more interaction between TPR and bilingual studies and suggested that TPR move forward by developing clearer distinctions between levels of processing – psychological, cognitive, neural, etc.

TPRW5 was a fascinating opportunity to explore the potential interactions between social and cognitive approaches and it prompted me to consider the ontological (in)compatibilities between practice theory and cognitivist process research, for further discussion elsewhere…

A number of papers from this event will be published, subject to review, in a special issue of Translation Spaces in 2017 on socio-cognitive approaches to translation research, guest-edited by Hanna Risku, Regina Rogl and Jelena Milošević, who were superb hosts for the event.

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