Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blogpost 100, in its efficient way, informs me that this is the 100th post to this blog.

The blog started in February 2009, but it didn’t really get going until July. Since then I’ve written, at a conservative rough estimate, 50,000 words of my own for it and typed or pasted another 20,000 words of quotations. No wonder I’m showing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome aka writer’s cramp.

Time, therefore, to reflect. Why do I blog?

Brevity. The posts are short, 500 to 1,000 words. On the one hand, I no longer have the stamina and resolve to write whole articles: and on the other hand the amount of information that keeps flowing in is more than I could cope with by in-depth treatment. If there were more people writing about the blog’s topics it wouldn’t matter so much, but we are all too few. At the same time, the posts are quick to read.

Freedom. I can say what I want to. I don’t have to submit it first to an editor, an editorial committee or a publisher. Even if the editorial readers are competent, they tend to be strongly ‘establishment’. Most of them have a literary or a professional translation background. My view of translation as being basically a natural, untrained phenomenon is therefore anti-establishment. It doesn’t interest them; or they regard it as marginal when it's really fundamental. Even the bilingualism specialists, who ought to know better, are rarely aware of or interested in translation. The exception among the latter is the Language Brokering researchers and educators, but there aren’t many of them and their field of study is pretty much limited to immigrant communities.

(There are other exceptions to what I’ve just said, and I’ve acknowledged them from time to time in the blog. They include:
Gideon Toury (see photo), editor of the journal Target and among the first to understand what it’s all about. The term and concept of Native Translator are his.

My early research collaborator Bianca Sherwood

Kenji Hakuta, Professor of Education at Stanford University

A later convert, Ricardo Muñóz, whose paper to the Castellón symposium I keep meaning to come back to.)

Speed. If I wake up in the morning with a new idea, a new term, I can get it out to my worldwide readership that same day. Publishing it in a conventional academic journal would take one to two years: see examples in the April 29 post. At my age, I can’t afford to wait.

Style. I’ve translated enough academic papers and articles in my time to know that their style is stilted and esoteric in many languages. The ritual of academic writing requires it. In a blog I can take off my stiff collar and make myself comfortable, use I, use the English contractions like it’s (which you may have noticed I’m prone to), try to be lively and clear and not sound superior.

Affordability. I don’t just mean that it costs nothing to publish a blog. It’s that my younger university friends can’t afford to publish in anything that isn’t a ‘peer reviewed’ conventional medium, otherwise the academic bean counters won’t give them credit for it and it won’t advance their careers. The late David Gerver, a pioneer of research on interpreters, once said to me, “Why do universities insist that their older staff go on publishing? By the time they’re 50, they’ve usually done their best work anyway.” Well, I’m retired and I no longer have a career to further, and I think I did my ‘best work’ when I was just under 50.

Readership. That’s you, dear Followers and other readers. I want to reach beyond the readers of translation studies publications and the devotees who attend translation conferences. Translation crops up quite frequently these days in the newspapers, but I’ve seen no wide-ranging books about translation for the general reader since George Steiner wrote After Babel in the 1970s. (An older favourite of mine for the general reader is Theodore Savory’s The Art of Translation.)

Preaching. One of the freedoms that blogging allows me is to preach a message. I don’t have to be neutral and circumspect. And I do have a message. I proclaimed it overtly in a post on January 1, but it underlies most of the rest. It’s that translation is not the reserved occupation of a skilled, highly educated or professional caste. It’s a universal ability and activity of everyday people.

And so, on – I hope – to the second 100 posts.


Gideon Toury. Natural translation and the making of a native translator. TEXTconTEXT, 1.11 29, 1986.

Bianca Sherwood. Features of Natural Translation in a Language Testing Environment. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag, 2009. Available from Amazon.

Kenji Hakuta., Translation Skills of Bilingual Children. Keynote address to the Stanford Forum for Research on Language and Culture, May 14, 1988.

Ricardo Muñóz Martín. Nomen mihi Legio est. A cognitive approach to Natural Translation. Paper to the 10th Jornadas de Tradución e Interpretación, Interpreting…Naturally, Universitat Jaume I, Castelló, Spain, 12-13 November 2009. To be published in the proceedings.

George Steiner. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. Oxford University Press, 1975. Paperback edition still in print.

Theodore Savory. The Art of Translation. London: Cape, 1957. Available second-hand from Amazon UK.

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