Friday, August 5, 2011

In Memoriam Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has died.

He was a Grand Old Man of British translation studies and a very nice, helpful person. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of professional translators like me read his bi-monthly column in The Linguist religiously. There will be many tributes to him, and a memorial meeting is to be held in the autumn at Guildford, in the south of England, where he lived and – in recent years – taught. There will also be many personal reminiscences from his colleagues, friends and students.

In fact one such anecdotal tribute was published recently by a Spanish former student whom he had counselled, José Manuel Mora Fandos. He describes how Newmark’s Paragraphs on Translation delivered him from "the theoreticians who had never themselves translated anything." What José Manuel liked in Newmark’s writings about theory was what I liked. He kept his feet on the ground of translation practice and wrote in the British tradition of clear language. His attitude was well summed up in the title of one his articles: The Curse of Dogma in Translation Studies. I smile at the image of him towards the end of José Manuel’s article where he goes off to his university class by bicycle. He must have been in his eighties.

I got to know Peter in person when he spent a period as a guest lecturer in Ottawa in 1983. He did me two services around that time: he persuaded me to switch to using the excellent Collins English Dictionary, which was new then, and he introduced me to the research of Hans Krings. Krings was a pioneer in the use of the ‘think aloud’ technique in translation research. At that time his work was only available in German, in which Peter was fluent but not me.

However, the last time I met Peter in person was at a translation conference in London in December 1991, and there he did me a service of another kind that was to have far-reaching consequences for me. We were sitting together listening, as I remember, to a speaker who was of the school that says translation is a transfer between cultures rather than between languages. Peter had told me just beforehand that he thought translatology was too pompous a term for what we do in translation studies – an opinion he was to change but only much later. Afterwards, I told him that I was on a committee to select a new director for the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa. I also said that we weren’t making much progress because we couldn’t agree on a candidate we liked. Then he remarked, “Well, you have done it before” – I’d been director from 1975 to 1979 – “and you were successful. Why don’t you do it again yourself?” So I went home and thought about his assessment, which carried weight, and I did in fact offer myself as director and got the job. And that’s how I ended up my career at the University of Ottawa, thanks to Peter’s encouragement.

José Manuel Mora Fandos. Una anécdota personal con el maestro de traductores Peter Newmark. Globedia, 25 May 2011.

Peter Newmark. Paragraphs on Translation. Clevedon and Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, c1993. 176 p. Paperback edition available from Amazon UK.

Peter Newmark. The curse of dogma in translation studies. Lebende Sprachen, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 105-108, 1991. PDF copy available online at

For his change of heart about translatology, see
Peter Newmark. Translation now - 60. The Linguist (Chartered Institute of Linguists, London), vol. 48, no. 6, p. 27, 2009.

Collins Dictionary of the English Language. Edited by Patrick Hanks, Thomas Hill Long, and Laurance Urdang. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1979. 1690 p. There have been several later editions.

Hans P. Krings. Was in den Köpfen von Übersetzern vorgeht: eine empirische Untersuchung zur Struktur des Übersetzungsprozesses an fortgeschrittenen Franzözischlernern (What goes on inside the translator’s head….). 1986. 570 p. Unfortunately it’s out of print and there’s no English translation. However, there’s another book by Krings with think-aloud data which is available:
Repairing Texts: Empirical Investigation of Machine Translation Post-Editing Processes. Translated from German by Geoffrey S. Koby. Kent State University Press, 2001. 635 p.



  1. Thanks a lot for the mention, I'm glad we are united in our common esteem of Peter Newmark... and in his ideas. The best. JM

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