Most generally speaking, directionality research is concerned with the direction from and into which a translation or interpretation is carried out, and related concepts. In a way, the translation or interpreting direction is present in any translation or interpreting research, since a translation or an interpretation can always be construed to have been done from a specific written, spoken or signed language into another. Building on an old debate in the profession and anecdotal comments on the issue, which go back at least as far as Pliny the Younger, who in 85 CE advocated translating from Ancient Greek into Latin and vice versa (Robinson 2002), a specific field of translation and interpreting studies (TIS) has developed to investigate directionality.
Directionality-related questions that have been or could be addressed by translation and interpreting researchers include: What are the roots of concepts central to directionality and so-called inverse translation such as ‘(non-)native’ speaker or signer, ‘(non-)mother tongue’ or ‘foreign’ language? How similar/dissimilar are attitudes and norms towards translation or interpreting direction in the various ‘translation cultures’ (Prunč 1997, 2012; Schippel 2008, Grbić et al. 2010)? How homogeneous are the groups of ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers or signers? How do ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers or signers feel about being explicitly or implicitly classified as such? With regard to directionality effects, how similar/dissimilar are specific language pairs and genres/text types? What is the performance of a translator or interpreter out of his/her ‘mother tongue’ as opposed to into his/her ‘mother tongue’? What are the effects when multiple collaborators with different ‘mother tongues’ (such as translators, revisors or validators) are involved in the translation process? How does translation or interpreting direction affect reception? How useful is it to use directionality as an organizing principle of translation/interpreting courses or entire study programs? How much is the ‘nativeness’ factor stressed in job advertisements, how relevant is it to actual hiring practices, and what reasons are given for that?
Now let me give you a brief overview of the research that has been published on translation and interpreting directionality over the years, and provide you with some context. At first, a few scattered, pioneering studies appeared, whose focus was mostly directionality in translation (e.g., McAlester 1992, 2000; Beeby Lonsdale 1996, Marmaridou 1996, Campbell 1998, Stewart 1999, 2000a+b, 2008; Kocijančič Pokorn 2000a+b, Lorenzo 2002, 2003). These studies were followed by a growing number of publications dealing with directionality in interpreting (e.g., Tommola/Helevä 1998, Al-Salman/Al-Khanji 2002, Lim 2005, Monti et al. 2005, Bartłomiejczyk 2006, Chang/Schallert 2007, Bendazzoli 2010, Opdenhoff 2011). In the noughties, when directionality research seems to have enjoyed its heyday in TIS, directionality-dedicated conference proceedings and a thematic special issue were published (Grosman et al. 2000, Kelly et al. 2003, Godijns/Hinderdael 2005). A fair number of works produced during that period approached directionality from an emancipatory perspective, which is attested to by titles such as Challenging the Traditional Axioms: Translation Into a Non-Mother Tongue (Pokorn 2005) or Into Forbidden Territory: The Audacity to Translate into a Second Language (Feltrin-Morris 2008).
Most recent contributions to directionality research have been made in translation process research (e.g., Hirci 2007, Alves et al. 2009, Pavlović/Jensen 2009, Maier 2011, Chang 2011, Wimmer 2011, Ferreira Alves 2010, 2012; Rodríguez/Schnell 2012, Ferreira 2014, Barbosa de Lima Fonseca 2015, Hunziker Heeb 2016, Ferreira/Schwieter 2017). Because of the nature and research designs of process studies in TIS, this does not come as a surprise. In the often quantitative studies typical of this TIS research tradition, directionality or related concepts may appear as explicitly spelled-out, highly visible dependent, independent or control variables (Krings 2005 mentions translation direction as one of his “task factors”).
Directionality has now been established as an important issue in TIS, and received its own entry in major reference works (Shuttleworth/Cowie 1997, Delisle et al. 1999, Beeby 2009, Palumbo 2009, Pokorn 2011, Bartłomiejczyk 2015).
TIS researchers will keep exploring the topic of directionality, also from new angles; directionality has recently become an issue in (improving) statistical machine translation and sign language interpreting (van Dijk et al. 2011, Wang/Napier 2013, Nicodemus/Emmorey 2013, 2015; Wang/Napier 2015, Wang 2016) and third language interpreting (Crasborn/van Dijken 2009, Topolovec 2012), for example. Recent conference (conference 1, conference 2), meeting (meeting 1, meeting 2) and workshop contributions, including the occasional keynote, a special journal section, a special issue on English as a lingua franca and translator/interpreter education including reflections on directionality, observations on directionality in so-called non-Western ‘translation cultures’, a survey reporting on the perception and role of translation direction in the Spanish technical translation market, and ongoing (post-)doctoral research projects are signs that the patient is alive and kicking.
In the rest of the post I would like to turn to conceptual and methodological issues. Taking a cue from other disciplines that have language(s) and communication as their object of study (e.g., Paikeday 1985, Piller 2001, 2002; Davies 2003, 2013; Bonfiglio 2013, Hulstijn 2015), we might want to be more careful when defining and operationalizing key concepts in directionality research. For instance, the criteria for assigning study participants to the ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ group are not always transparent. The linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas mentions origin, function, competence and/or identification as criteria we could rely on to determine a person’s mother tongue(s). To avoid threats to our studies’ credibility, we should thus perhaps be more cautious about ‘I know one when I see one’.
In the second and final part of this two-part blog post, I am going to talk about methodology in directionality research and will suggest methodological improvements (such as blinding) to avoid biased results.
- Feltrin-Morris, Marella. 2008. Into forbidden territory. The audacity to translate into a second language. PhD thesis, Binghamton University/SUNY.
by Matthias Apfelthaler