Last weekend, I attended a conference at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. The focus of the conference was on the theory and practice of translation. The question discussed was basically what relationship translation theory and the practice of translation have, or should have.
It often surprises me to find translation theorists who don’t actually translate themselves. Of course I know that, for example, movie critics aren’t usually directors or actors themselves and literary critics aren’t always writers, and that you can learn a lot about a topic by reading about it. Still, I feel that it is hard to create theory or to work as a critic without some active knowledge of the practice.
Many theorists get annoyed about how practicing translators tend to ignore the theoretical work. Translators sometimes feel that they learn hands-on and don’t have to read what seems to be dull and irrelevant and distant from their work.
In other words, there is a divide between theorists and practitioners. Some of us do both and want to see more of a connection. But why? My feeling is that theorists would greatly benefit from doing and not just thinking and critiquing, while practitioners might get some new ideas or understanding from reading some of the theoretical ideas. Yes, it sounds obvious, but apparently a lot of people are still missing the point.
My own presentation at the conference was about how certain theories (in this particular case, postcolonial theories) could inform a translator’s decisions for a text and choice of strategies by making the translator more aware of certain issues (here, the role of power). As a practicing translator myself, I’ve certainly found that not only is it interesting to learn about translation theory, but it can also improve my work, although there are definitely some ideas that I have dismissed.
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