Practice vs. Theory

As in many professions, there seems to be a distinct division within the field of translation between translation practitioners and translation theorists. Is there a correct path? Does one particular path dominate over the other? Experience shows that the two paths do not often cross and that there is a large organised group of translation theorists mainly centred around the academia, whereas translation practitioners are probably an even larger yet more loosely organised bunch.

The theorists think, the practitioners do, and because of this fact the theorists often draw more attention to themselves. The practitioners get their heads down and do the task required of them.

The best way forward is for practitioners to utilise some of the ideas put forward by the theorists (corpus linguistics being a wonderful example) and for theorists to take a healthy step away from what they are doing in order to actually translate and remember what it is all about. Many academic staff who teach translation do not actually translate. Unfortunately, a great deal of practitioners know little about the newest theories in their own field.

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12 Responses to “Practice vs. Theory”

  1. wiktor Says:

    I came across your weblog by chance and I liked what I saw. I’m a theorist by your definition – but I’m trying to get back to practice 🙂
    Good luck, and happy Easter!
    W.

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    The balance between the two is difficult at best. All the very best!

  3. transubstantiation Says:

    Keep reading and keep commenting. Your thoughts and ideas are always welcome.

  4. Magda Gołoś Says:

    I don’t think there is this “correct path”, the one, which “dominates over the other”. In this case, the best solution is to find the golden mean. On the one hand, the knowledge of translation theory is crucial, but it must be supported by practice. On the other hand, practice itself is not enough (although we could find several examples of people who knew little about translation theory, but at the same time were good translators).

  5. transubstantiation Says:

    Definitely. Without the two, together, there is no real way forward.

  6. Agnieszka K.K. Says:

    You need theory to translate AND actually translate to theorise, ditto

    Still, I have a feeling sometimes there is sth like intuition… in the sense you subconsciously know one translation would do, the other is crap (perhaps you get the feeling after getting familiar with the theory…)

    Another thing is theorist are idealists with their theories which prove difficult to adapt at times. Translators seem more likely to make a compromise, I suppose.

  7. transubstantiation Says:

    Agnieszka K.K. : But shouldn’t translators always be idealists. Our job, of course, is to produce the best possible interpretation and, if I follow your line of thought, in order to do so we have to be acquainted with theory in order to find this ideal. Without the idealism of theory there is not hope of practical expertise.

  8. Metaphorical Translation « transubstantiation Says:

    […] Posted by transubstantiation on June 19th, 2007 The amount of metaphors used to describe translators and the work of translators is truly astounding. The old familiar comparisons of translation being like a mirror or being a copy of the original keep cropping up in various works concerning translators and translating. Much depends, of course, on our approach to translation – whether we focus on theory or practice. […]

  9. Zuluska Says:

    My options are on the practicioners side rather than theorists. I do not want to underestimate the value of a theory, however, comparing those two,exclusively studing may prpovide an impressing knowledge, but it may occur usuful to no one. While the practicioners by doing their job, workin with a living language, even lacking of a proper theory, are far more acquainted of the present spirit of a language, more understanding and in my opinion more oper for the evaluations within one language.

  10. george Says:

    i guess it depends on what our aims and objectives are vis a vis our graduates.do we want them to develop more theoretical knowlegde about the translation process, or to focus on the translation act itself.the more trained to translate, the more they will benefit from and enjoy the theory, and not vice versa.i’m afraid that by too much emphasis on theory,ie that without it translation is not possible,may stifle the spirit of the translator in potential candidates,that spirit which is the starting point and the backbone of the translation process. certaily, a translator can use his intuition and knowledge to theorise, but at a later and more developed stage.

  11. transubstantiation Says:

    I don’t think it does depend. A good balance of both theory and practice is useful to most translators.


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