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What Is a Translating

Translator Doing?
Brian Mossop
Government of Canada Translation Bureau and
York University School of Translation

Abstract: Translating is here defined as the quoting, in sequential chunks, of the


wording of a written, oral or signed text, with an imitative purpose. These
features distinguish it from other sorts of language activity intralingual
paraphrasing, re-expressing of ideas, fictive quoting, speaking from a script,
ghostwriting and thus provide an object for a theory of translation production.
The defining feature 'quoting ' is taken to involve demonstrating to someone
selected features of the source text. Thus the translational quoter is engaged in a
dual activity: quoting OF the source text (rendering work) and quoting TO the
readers or listeners (pragmatic work). The texts commonly called translations
arise from some combination of rendering, pragmatic and non-translational
work.
Rsum: On propose de dfinir l'acte de traduire comme le fait de citer, l'un
aprs l'autre, et avec une vise imitative, les fragments et phrases qui constituent
un texte crit, oral ou sign. L'acte traductif se distingue ainsi d'autres types de
production linguistique, comme la paraphrase intralinguale ou la r-expression
d'ides, et on parvient ainsi dfinir l'objet d'une thorie de la production
traductive. Le dfinisseur citer est prendre dans le sens d'une dmonstration
de certains traits choisis du texte de dpart. Le traducteur-citeur s'engage dans
une activit deux volets : citation DU texte de dpart (il rend ce texte) et citation
adresse AUX lecteurs ou auditeurs (travail pragmatique). Les textes communment appels traductions sont produits par une combinaison de plusieurs
sortes de travail linguistique: travail rendant le texte de dpart, travail pragmatique, travail non traductif.

1.

Defining Translation: Five Criteria and Four Deadends

The title question is not to be confused with the psycholinguistic question:


what is happening in the mind of the translator? Nor is it to be taken as

Target 10:2 (1998), 231-266. DOI 10.1075/target.l0.2.03mos


ISSN 0924-1884 / E-ISSN 1569-9986 John Benjamins Publishing Company

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inquiring about the diverse economic, cultural or political functions which the
translator is serving: extending a literary tradition by retranslating a novel;
censoring information from foreign sources; enlarging a company's market by
translating product information; allowing people to avoid learning the lan
guage of a neighbouring community.
The title question is asking for a defintion of the object of translation
production theory, as suggested by Anthony Pym's (1993) nice phrase "trans
lating translator" the translator at work alternately reading or listening to a
bit of the source text and producing a bit of text in the second language. A
translation reception theory answers the very different question: what do
translations do? It is concerned with the moment(s) when completed transla
tions affect readers and listeners, and through them, the target culture, includ
ing its language and system of texts. Reception theory needs its own definition
of translation, perhaps one involving the venerable concept of equivalence: as
Pym points out (1992: 37ff, 64), equivalence defines translation in the sense
that when people are persuaded to receive a text as a translation, they believe
they are somehow receiving the original message directly from the ST author;
the meaning-producing activity of the translator is overlooked.
According to Levy (1967), what the translator is doing is deciding which
of many possible wordings in the second language to select. This answer to the
title question opens the door to a search for the social and psychological
factors impinging on the translator's decision. However it assumes we have
already answered another question: when is a person being a translator? In this
article I will define translation production in a way that makes it possible to
say that people called translators are sometimes translating, sometimes not.
Their language production work may be entirely, mainly, partly or not at all
translational.
I suggest that a useful answer to the title question will meet five require
ments. The definition should be (i) non-normative, (ii) general, (iii) narrow,
(iv) multidimensional, and (v) neither psychological nor sociological:
(i) Non-normative. The definition will not be a disguised restatement of
some translational ideal,1 such as Nida's famous "translating consists
in reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent
of the SL message, first in terms of meaning and second in terms of
style" (1969: 12). Such ideals reflect the habits of a particular group
of translators translating a certain type of text. The aim rather should

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be to find a definition for the process of translating-in-general (hence


forth Translating), valid for all times, places, language pairs, text
types, and approaches to the task including approaches that result
in "bad translations" and "mistranslations", as distinct from nontranslations.
(ii) General. The definition will embrace work from and to oral, written
and signed texts as well as work in all modes which, pre-theoretically, we think of as translational: interpreting dialogue in court,
subtitling films, translating books, and so forth. If it seems that no
interesting generalizations can be made about just this range of
language production work, then Translating per se will not be a
theoretical object: the production of subtitles, court interpretations
and translated novels will be subsumed in film theory, the sociology
of law, and literary history respectively. The criterion of generality is
also incompatible with dividing translation into a myriad of "transla
tional practices" and personal translation projects (Poundian transla
tion, feminist translation, belles infidles, etc.), all self-defining and
with merely a family resemblance to each other.
(iii) Narrow. Translating will not be characterized as a subtype of some
broader object, such as intercultural communication, metatextual
production or mediation. The main point of a defining exercise is to
draw attention to what is peculiar about translation production. If it
seems that generalizations can be made only about one of these
broader objects, then the project of theorizing about Translating will
have proven to be wrongheaded.
(iv) Multidimensional. The definition will distinguish translation pro
duction from as many kinds of non-translational language production
as possible.2 This means the definition will have several parts. Each
of the parts will be shared with several non-translational activities,
but together they will single out Translating.
(v) Neither sociological nor psychological. Perhaps one day we will
have a psychological characterization that will distinguish the mental
processes of translational comprehension and composition from nontranslational processes. Or a sociological characterization that will
distinguish translators from non-translators in terms of the economic,
political and cultural relationships into which translators enter. Or a
psycho-social characterization distinguishing translators from other

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language producers in terms of their scope for creation given the


social constraints impinging on their work. These would be empirical
distinctions, answering the question: is there something unique about
how translators process language in the mind, or how translation is
embedded in social structure? Before framing hypotheses about such
distinctions, we first need to identify their object: which part of
someone's speaking or writing is the translational part?
For definitional purposes, Translating is best seen not in sociological or
psychological terms but as an act of text-linguistic communication. Of course,
the common notion of the translator as communicator is not of much use in
itself, since most speaking and writing is communicative. The definition must
distinguish translational from non-translational communication, including
non-translational interlingual communication.
If the above requirements are accepted, then the following four ap
proaches will be rejected as deadends:
(a) Identifying a cut-off point on the literal-free scale (fails to meet criteria i
and iv above)
Separating translations from adaptations is a hopeless task. The cut-off point
will inevitably be arbitrary, dictated by the definer's normative concept of
translation, or the concept currently prevalent in a society, or among profes
sional translators of a particular type of text. Typically the cut-off point is
identified (rather than defined) by pointing at a text deemed to be mere
adapting or at the other end of the scale mere transcoding. This approach
is unidimensional and negative: a single feature is invoked (e.g. correspon
dence to the sens of the source text, cf. Seleskovitch 1982), and translation is
whatever is left over once the two non-translational ends of the correspon
dence scale are eliminated.
Related to the translation/adaptation distinction is the equally hoary
question of whether translation is derivative or creative. For definitional
purposes, this question too is pointless; any answer will simply reflect the
outlook of a particular time and place. From the definition of Translating that
will be proposed here, it follows that it is always both creative and derivative,
but then this is true of all types of language production: in some sense, "every
utterance repeats" (Compagnon 1979: 9, my translation) and yet at the same
time offers something new because the repeater is responding to a new

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situation. The question is: what is the particular way in which translation
"repeats"?
(b) Separating literary from technical translation (fails criteria ii and v)
The classic statement of this approach is Schleiermacher's (1813) distinction
of Ubersetzen from Dolmetschen. The distinction is not one of written versus
oral translation, as the German words suggest, but rather scholarly versus
commercial translation, or literary/humanistic versus scientific/technical. The
Ubersetzer works with texts that reflect one person's unique thought, while
the Dolmetscher works with texts that reflect the extralinguistic world. Much
writing about translation implies the need for two theories a psychological
theory of Ubersetzen (seen as the translator's mental struggle to shape the
target language in order to convey what is culture-specific or author-specific
in the source text), and a sociological theory of Dolmetschen (seen as the
circulation of international, authorless concepts).
Once the Ubersetzen/Dolmetschen division is allowed, the resulting frag
mentation cannot be halted in any principled way. There will have to be a
definition for every use of language: for poetry, where rhythmic and phonetic
effects are especially important; for court decisions, where real events are
interpreted by reference to a world created by the wording of laws. And so on,
and on and on.
One can certainly relate language production to the various larger spheres
of human activity in which it is embedded, but the effect of such a move is to
focus on the social functions of translation rather than its text-linguistic nature.
Some translation {Dolmetschen) is then seen as an aspect of international
commerce or politics, some (Ubersetzen) as an aspect of cultural history.
More generally, the focus shifts to regional or global communication circuits
and away from the individual communicative act of language production.
(c) Using a situation-based definition (fails criteria iii and v)
Could we start from a primal situation in which interlingual communicating
activity (ICA) occurs? Two human groups come into contact, cannot under
stand each other's speech but must have or wish to have dealings. Unless a
lingua franca is available or a pidgin is developed and suffices for their
purposes, some members of one or both groups must learn the language of the
other and serve as intergroup communicators in one or both directions until
such time as bilingualism becomes generalized or one of the languages ceases
to be used.

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With the advent of writing (and later, sound recording), a secondary


interlingual communicating situation arises. It becomes possible to select
earlier communications that took place within one language community, even
if its language is no longer in use, and re-present them in another language for
a new audience.
Could we then define Translating as the linguistic activity that goes on in
the primal or secondary ICA situation? Such a sociological definition will
embrace as translational all language activities engaged in by interlingual
communicators in ICA situations. Unfortunately this includes the creation of
derived and co-produced texts. In co-production, a selection of themes is
expressed in L1 and, separately, in L2, as happens in certain multilingual
advertising campaigns. In derivation, an L2 text is produced that draws
general inspiration from an existing L1 text, but the L2 producer expresses
ideas drawn from an independent stock of thoughts rather than working under
the control of the detailed wording of the L1 text. An example would be the
English version of the French song which is now Canada's national anthem,
discussed further in Section 3.
A theory of language production in the ICA situation would thus include
Translating, but it would not be a theory of Translating per se. A similar
problem arises if the primal situation is seen in intercultural rather than
interlingual terms. It has become commonplace in reaction to the notion
that translation is an application of linguistics to define translation as
intercultural communication. Unfortunately, if one asks what kind of intercul
tural communication it is, the answer must surely be, rather uninformatively,
that it is the interlingual kind! It is not clear how translational and nontranslational intercultural communication could be related in order to bring out
the peculiarities of Translating. On the intercultural communication scene,
translation is really rather an oddity. Internationally, language mixtures and
lingua francas are used more than translation (e.g. English for communication
between Japan and the US), while in multicultural societies, immigrants
communicate with hosts mainly by learning the hosts' language. And in both
cases, non-linguistic communication is very important. In short, interculturality is far too broad a concept for the purpose of defining Translating.
(d) Requesting labels (fails criteria i, iii and v)
Could we define Translating by asking speakers and writers to label their
activity, or by asking an observer to label it? This would create two difficul-

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ties. First, people may present their work as translation even though in fact it
was produced in some other way. Sometimes the texts so presented are
derived or co-produced. Sometimes they are TL originals which are presented
as translations because that is thought to confer prestige on them or, under
other circumstances, shield the authors from responsibility for their content. A
self-proclaimed translation may also be simply a reworking of older transla
tions. This is the case with the King James Bible of 1611. Comparison of a
passage with the original Hebrew or Greek might well lead one to receive it as
a translation, and indeed this is how the front page presents it ("Newly
Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations
diligently compared and revised"). Actually, the production process consisted
in selecting the best 16th century translation of a passage, only retranslating if
no previous translation was suitable (which was not often), and then putting
the result through the English style editing which gives this version its
distinctive rhythms and flavour (Opfell 1982). Thus most of the language
production work was not Translating at all.
The second difficulty with requesting labels is that we will get not one
term but a lengthy list: not just 'translating' but also 'rewriting', 'interpreting',
'adapting', and so on. We would have to decide whether someone who claims
to be 'adapting' or 'rewriting' is Translating or doing something else. We
could ask third parties, but they might disagree: one might insist that the
activity is adapting rather than translating, another that it is translating, an
other that adapting is a kind of translating. If the Koran is put into English,
anglophone Muslims will call that activity adapting or interpreting and deny
that it is translating; they will see the English as a guide to the original Arabic,
which alone constitutes the word of God. Non-Muslims will call the activity
translation. And what of a francophone journalist in Quebec who describes her
activity as rdiger les nouvelles, 'writing the news', even though an outside
observer would describe it as translating an international press agency item
from English into French?
This brings us to the problem of other languages. Is an activity labelled
'traduire' or 'perevodit" or 'ubersetzen' an instance of Translating? There are
several complications. Some languages refer to ICA with a word whose
meaning is general enough for that purpose but does not actually include ICA
as a meaning component (think of English 'convert' or 'transform'). Other
languages have no general word like 'translate' but only specific words, like
'subtitle', which refer to the translation of texts in a particular medium, genre

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or source language. And of course in all languages, words can change their
meaning or their reference over time: an activity described in one era as
'translating' might be denied that label a hundred years later.
Let us use the expression 't-words' for the full set of words, in all
languages, which people use, or have in the past used, to describe their own
activity or the activity of others as ICA. For the observable activities referred
to by t-words, let us use the notation 'translating...'. It seems clear that
translating... cannot be a fruitful object for translation production theory
because the t-words cover such a disparate group of activities: if we know only
that someone is translating..., we do not know whether that person is engaged
in the same activity as someone else who is also translating..., that is, we do
not know whether one, both or neither of them is Translating in a universal
sense.
Thus the object of Translating theory should not be defined by reference
to social labels. In the approach to be taken here, the producer of any text can
be engaging in several language production activities at once, or switching
from one activity to another as the text is created. The point will be to decide
which activity or combination of activities should be called Translating for
theoretical purposes. Passages in an observable text may arise from purely
non-translational activity, from Translating plus non-translational activity, or
from Translating alone. This points to another aspect of the title phrase
"translating translator": I am interested in people called translators only inso
far as they are Translating.
In the next three sections, I will build up a definition of Translating that
meets the five criteria. The defining features are quoting (Section 2), sequen
tial rewording (Section 3) and imitative purpose (Section 4).

2.

Translating Is Quoting

2.1. The Translator as Rapporteur


In Mossop 1983, I proposed that Translating is reporting, and represented this
graphically with the diagram3 reproduced in Figure 1 :

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xc
X is reporting to C what A said/wrote/signed to B
Figure 1. Translating as Reporting (from Mossop 1983: 246)

Since the first defining feature, 'quoting', is a kind of reporting, I want to


expand at some length on this diagram and its caption, drawing attention not
just to what it shows but to what it does not show.
The relevant definition of 'report' in Webster's Tenth New Collegiate
Dictionary is 'to relate the words or sense of (something said)', but nothing
hinges on the specifics of this English word since the activity diagrammed in
Figure 1 is a universal one. The dictionary definition does point to one great
advantage of the concept of reporting, namely that it circumvents the notori
ous problem of intended meaning. One does not report intentions; one reports
what someone said. X's report of what A said to B may include both intended
and unintended meanings.
Reporting is to be distinguished from stating the meaning of a passage in
a text. In a too-much-cited article, Jakobson (1959) says that a translation is a
reported speech, but a close reading reveals that the article is actually about
stating in L2 the meaning of an L1 expression. Consider a French text on fruit
harvesting that contains the phrase blessures mcaniques de pommes 'me
chanical injuries of apples'. I can state the in-context meaning of blessures
mcaniques either in French ('lsions la suite d'un accident plutt qu'une
infection') or in some other language ('defects of mechanical rather than
infectious origin'). Now suppose I produce this English, talking either to
myself or to a colleague: "He means defects of mechanical rather than infec
tious origin". Such a statement is not functioning as a report; it is a heuristic
device whereby I spell out the meaning of the passage in hopes of eliciting a
useable translation (such as 'bruising'). As Jakobson puts it:
. . . the meaning of any linguistic sign is its translation into some further,
alternative sign, especially a sign "in which it is more fully developed", as
Peirce, the deepest inquirer into the essence of signs, insistently stated. The

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term 'bachelor' may be converted into a more explicit designation, 'unmar


ried man', whenever higher explicitness is required. We distinguish three
ways of interpreting a verbal sign: it may be translated into other signs of the
same language, into another language, or into another, nonverbal system of
symbols. (1959: 232)

Jakobson immediately contrasts this with reporting:


Most frequently, however, translation from one language into another substi
tutes messages in one language not for separate code-units but for entire
messages in some other language. Such a translation is a reported speech.
(1959: 233)

Nothing more is said about reported speech, and it is hard to see any connec
tion between Jakobson's mention of it and the main line of his discussion,
where a 'translation' is an elaborated statement of meaning.
The past tense in the caption of Figure 1 (A said to B) refers to the order
of creation, not the order of presentation. Film subtitles in L2 are presented
simultaneously with the on-screen dialogue in L1 but were of course created
after it. No Translating can occur until at least some of A-B has already been
produced. Thus if a language producer is thinking in one language and then
speaking in another, no Translating is occurring because no source text in the
first language has been produced. Similarly, the process by which thought is
expressed as text is not (contrary to Mel'chuk 1978) Translating, since the
thought is not a prior text A-B. Thought, while perhaps executed in language,
is not text publicly available language. So when Bandia (1993) finds
evidence that West African novelists writing in their second (European)
language were thinking of expressions in their native languages, he has not
found a case of self-translation.
The caption of Figure 1 does not imply interlinguality. The diagram
therefore covers such intralingual activities as paraphrasing medical talk in lay
language. This is not a defect that could be repaired by amending the caption
to read: "reporting to C in L2 what A said to B in L1". Reporting is reporting;
it does not come in an intralingual and an interlingual version. The
interlinguality of Translating is discussed in Section 5.
The diagram also covers both Translating and deriving. Deriving, as
described in Section 1, involves a source text A-B, but X does not process it
sequentially, in chunks ranging in size from a phrase to a couple of sentences,
and does not necessarily aim to imitate it. These two defining features of
Translating sequentiality and imitation are discussed in Sections 3 and 4
respectively.

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The diagram defines Translating in terms of the activity of the translator


X. The author and addressees of the source text, as well as the readers of the
translation, certainly appear in the diagram, but they are present only as
imagined by the translator. The translator's interpretation of what A said to B
is in the diagram, but not A as such. The translator's concept of those who will
be reading the translation is present, but not the readers as such. C is the
imagined reader, not the real one, who is of concern only to reception theory.
The diagram reflects the translator's communicative position at the mo
ment of production. It does not show the translator's social position the
actual economic, cultural and political relationships in which he or she is
involved. Nor does it show the translator's location in the source-text
society, the target-language society, some third society or an in-between
zone.4 All these factors are vital for descriptive and explanatory purposes, but
not for the purpose of defining translation production. Indeed their inclusion
would be incompatible with the goal of a general definition: what a commu
nity interpreter in a hospital is doing, sociologically speaking, is indeed quite
different from what a translator of Homer is doing.
Because the diagram is not a description, but simply a representation of
one proposed defining feature of Translating, it omits many complications.
For example in the written but not the oral mode, X is physically isolated from
A, B and C, and there may be a gap of thousands of years between A-B and XC. The diagram also abstracts away from cases in which the translator does not
directly address the intended TL audience:
-

C is another translator who turns X's translation into a third language


L3 when no one is available to translate directly from L1 to L3;
C is a dialogue writer, who reworks a rough translation of film
dialogue for use by a dubbing actor.

In these cases, X is still reporting to C what A said to B, but knows that C is not
the final addressee. Cases in which an editor intervenes between X and C
without X's knowledge are not covered, since the diagram represents the
situation from the translator's point of view.
Figure 1 is further restricted to the translator's activity qua reporter. Of
course, he or she may also be doing things as a consequence or goal of re
porting. For example, a book translator's work may have the consequence of
enriching the target language, or it may have the goal of introducing a new
genre. In one peculiar class of cases, where C is already familiar with the

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source text, the goal is not even to convey the meaning of the source:
translations prepared by second-language students (or translation students!)
for their teachers; translations of Greek and Latin texts into European vernacu
lars for readerships already familiar with the source (Bassnett 1980: 69, 44).
These cases are marginally translational since one does not normally report
that which is believed to be already known. When Chapman and Pope trans
lated the Iliad into English in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively, they
knew that many of their readers would not want to know what Homer said;
like the language teacher, they would be interested in the translations as
translations of a source text they already knew.
Translators may also be doing things in addition to reporting. For ex
ample, a community interpreter may be serving as an advocate or as an
independent source of information. Consider the following passage and its
translation by an interpreter in a hospital in Winnipeg, Canada. The patient, a
Cree Indian, is anemic and the doctor thinks she may be losing blood during
bowel movements because of a benign polyp that has been discovered by
colonoscopy:
Doctor: I can take the polyp out without an operation, by putting a tube inside
the bowel, and putting a wire around it and burning the polyp off. That stops
the bleeding, no need for an operation.
Interpreter (backtranslation from Cree): He says they can put in a tube and
burn off the growth. If it's not removed, you may end up with cancer. And
you won't need an operation. This procedure will get it in time. Before it
begins to bleed or starts to grow, (adapted from Kaufert and O'Neil 1990: 4950)

The part about cancer is not reporting, in that it does not relate anything said or
implied by the doctor. Instead, the interpreter is acting as an independent
source of medical information: she knows that polyps can become cancerous
and says so. Some practitioners of community interpreting might respond by
saying that the interpreter is not in fact interpreting (the normative cut-off
point approach discussed in Section 1 above). Some theoreticians, on the
contrary, might respond by saying that if community interpreters do indeed
work like this, then Translating must be defined to include it. In my view, the
proper theoretical response is to say that the interpreter is engaging in two
different activities simultaneously: she is Translating (reporting) and she is
also providing independent information. This approach is elaborated in Sec
tion 6.

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Figure 1 accounts for all media and modes of translation: written, oral and
signed texts; book translating, dialogue interpreting, film dubbing and so on.
One source of its generality is that the letters A, B, X and C represent not four
particular individuals but four roles. Individuals can take two roles at once, or
switch roles. Thus in self-translation, A=X. In oral or signed dialogue inter
preting, B=C and the individuals playing roles A and C switch as do the
source and target languages with every turn in the dialogue.
Dialogue interpreting is unusual: in typical written as well as much oral
and signed translation, the original communication A-B is independent of the
translational communication X-C; A is not addressing C. But in dialogue
interpreting, the source text is specifically addressed to someone who does not
speak the source language: an English-speaking doctor addresses a Creespeaking patient. Nevertheless it remains the case that X is telling C what A
said to B(=C). More seriously, dialogue interpreting may lead us to question
the theoretical separation of production from reception. In all other modes of
translation book translation, simultaneous interpretation and so on
reception is irrelevant to production: the actual (as opposed to anticipated)
verbal reactions of receivers have no effect on the translator's production
work. In dialogue interpreting, however, receivers produce the next bit of
source text in response to the translation of the previous turn in the dialogue.
To maintain the production/reception distinction, it may be necessary to take
each turn in the dialogue as a separate text. I leave this matter unresolved.

2.2. Indirect Reporting, Exact-words Quoting, Fictive Quoting and


Free Direct Quoting
When I say that Translating is reporting, I do not mean that it is like reporting.
I mean that a translator is actually producing the grammatical/rhetorical
structure known as reported speech. In two common cases, this is immediately
apparent because there is a quotational phrase (italicized in the following
examples):
Indirect reporting
(1)

A to B(=C): Je me sens mal.


X to C: She says she doesn't feel so good.

This is the form favoured by non-professional dialogue interpreters, such as


children translating for their immigrant parents.

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Direct reporting
In a television documentary prepared by the Canadian Broadcasting Corpora
tion, a dancer at the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg was being interviewed.
Viewers could see and hear her speaking in Russian, with voiceover by the
Canadian journalist in English:
(2)

X to C: I'm not as well off as under communism, she's saying.

Quotational phrases occur in oral translations of turns in dialogue as in (1), as


well as in oral or written translations which are embedded in a larger TL text
the Canadian journalist's narrative surrounding (2). Both the indirect and
direct forms can also occur as translations without a quotational phrase:
(la) X to C: She doesn't feel so good.
(2a) X to C: I'm not as well off as under communism.
Someone reading or listening to (la) or (2a), if it occurred as part of a larger
translated text, might or might not be able to recognize it as translation. With
live oral translation, which may use either the indirect or the direct form, the
fact of reporting will be evident from the physical presence of the interpreter
and of someone speaking in another language. In written translation, which
typically uses the direct form (2a), the fact of reporting will often not be clear
to the reader. But to the translator, producing text of type 2a is always a. matter
of reporting a prior text.5
Now intralingually, direct reporting is usually called quoting. It is custom
ary to think of quoting as reproducing the exact words of the source, and in this
sense of the word, translating obviously cannot be quoting, since all or almost
all the words are changed. I suggest, however, that this commonplace view
makes for a very unsatisfactory theory of quoting. It is true that in certain written
contexts (in law, scholarship and journalism), there is an ethical requirement to
reproduce exact wordings, but these are best seen as special cases. Most often,
quoting is a kind of dramatization: when narrating events, people put their
sources on a metaphorical stage and make them speak in the first person:
(3) I ran into Gwendolyn yesterday and she said I hear you're not
going to the translation conference; I said no I don't think so\ she
said I really think you should.
Of course one reason exact words are not used in reports of oral conversation
is that the narrator most commonly cannot remember the exact words. But that

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

245

does not make oral quoting defective, for the dramatic purpose of quoting is in
no way enhanced by the use of exact words. For clarity, I shall refer to such
dramatized (first-person) reporting of others' words as "free direct" quoting
when it is necessary to distinguish it from the exact-words variety or from
indirect reporting.
Herbert Clark and Richard Gerrig (1990) propose a theory of quoting that
seems able to account for free direct quoting, including its translational variety.6
The theory defines quoting in terms of its nature as a language act, not in terms
of its functions. To simplify, Clark and Gerrig argue that an act of quoting is one
in which the speaker purports to demonstrate rather than describe selected
aspects of something that has been said or written. Consider:
(4)
(5)
(6)

"I'll get it translated by tomorrow", said Gwendolyn slowly.


"I'll...get... it... translated...by...tomorrow", said Gwendolyn.
Gwendolyn promised to translate it by the next day.

The speaker of (4) describes the fact that Gwendolyn spoke slowly whereas
the speaker of (5) demonstrates it (not very successfully in the above written
version; in the oral equivalent, the quoter would speak slowly). The speakers
of both (4) and (5) demonstrate the illocutionary force (promising) of what
Gwendolyn said, whereas the speaker of (6) describes it.
Clark and Gerrig provide a partial list of the things a quoter can decide to
demonstrate, including voice pitch, speech defects, level of formality, propositional content, illocutionary force, exact words uttered (just one option
among others) and, of course, the language used by the original speaker:
(7)
(8)
(9)

"Je le ferai traduire pour demain", said Gwendolyn.


Speaking in French, Gwendolyn promised she'd have it translated
by Friday.
"I'll get it translated by tomorrow", said Gwendolyn in French.

The speaker of (7) demonstrates the fact that Gwendolyn spoke in French. The
speaker of (8) describes this fact, as well as the illocutionary force and
propositional content of what she said. Interlingual indirect reports like (8) do
not demonstrate anything. Even if, on the model of sentence (la) above, we
consider the utterance She 'll have it translated by Friday, this too is descrip
tive rather than demonstrative in relation to Je le ferai traduire pour demain. It
is thus non-quotational and if quoting is a defining feature of Translating
non-translational. However, since such sentences are used in interlingual
communicating situations, by people called translators, we might alternatively

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BRIAN MOSSOP

view indirect reports as marginally translational.


Turning to sentence (9), here the speaker describes the fact that
Gwendolyn spoke in French, but demonstrates the force and content of what
she said. The portion inside quotation marks is therefore translational. Clark
and Gerrig's interpretation of sentences like (9) is vastly superior to that
offered by Ann Banfield, according to whom people take them as paradoxes
(the quotation is in English, not French) and then resolve the paradox through
an "implicit belief in . . . a kind of universal language which can be represented
by particular languages" (1982: 248-249). I suggest, following Clark and
Gerrig (1990: 798), that people do not take such sentences as paradoxes at all,
but instead as perfectly ordinary instances of quoting.
Now most translations, unlike the one in (9), are not presented as quota
tions. Nevertheless (9) is a model of what every translator is doing. Given a
French text containing:
(10) A-B: . . . Je le ferai traduire pour demain . . .
I can demonstrate various aspects of it, for example its illocutionary force and
propositional content, some of its lexico-syntactic structure, and its level of
language, by producing:
(11) X-C: . . . I'll get it translated by tomorrow . . .
Conceiving Translating as quoting has the virtue of strengthening one of
the classic answers to the old question about the possibility of translation.
Aside from the common bio-ecology all human groups share (which provides
extralinguistic reference points for two-language communication), translation
is made possible in part by the structural universals of human language. As a
supplement to this latter point, we can now say that translation is possible
because quoting is possible: all languages provide lexico-syntactic devices for
demonstrating, or dramatically representing, the discourse of others.
The dramatization metaphor suggests the creative aspect of the trans
lator's work. However it does have a drawback in that it may suggest a fictive
type of language production, which is not intended. In a discussion of the uses
of quoting in conversation, Tannen (1989: 98ff) emphasizes the creative
aspect of quoting but declines to pick out those cases in which the quotation
refers back to a specific real prior discourse. Instead, her discussion is very
target-context-oriented: quoting is seen as having a variety of functions in the
rapporteur's context. For example, the quotation may simply be a way of
livening up an otherwise dull narrative: the dramatized persona did not actu-

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

247

ally say anything at all. Or the rapporteur is speculating about what someone
was thinking, and presents the thought as a quote, as in the colloquial "Peter
was like: why are you doing that?", meaning that Peter reacted in such a way
that one could speculate that he was thinking "why are you doing that?".
These kinds of fictive quoting work reporting of imagined thought or
speech are not included in the concept of free direct quoting. In Translating
there is always a real textual source, and, as we will now see, the translator
follows its detailed wording.

3. Translational Rewording Is Sequential


The defining feature 'free direct quoting' already contains the notion that in
Translating, there is a real source text. But sources can be treated in very
different ways. The feature under discussion in this section sequentiality
refers to a very peculiar aspect of Translating, namely that the language
producer is reading or listening to the prior text as he or she produces the new
one, and is processing the source chunk by chunk, a phrase or sentence at a time.
(In consecutive interpreting, this may happen in two steps: the translator writes
notes as the oral text is produced, and then speaks a translation based on the
notes.)
The main point of this second defining feature is that in Translating, the
source text is not treated as merely a source of thoughts to be expressed; it is
processed as text. This is to be contrasted with writers who work partly or
entirely from a stock of thoughts, as shown in Figure 2:
text N

translating text
A into L2

text B
text A

stock of thoughts
(themes, beliefs, etc.)

deriving text
in L2 or L1 from
text A plus stock
of thoughts

re-expressing thoughts
in L1 or in L2
(if both: co-production)

Figure 2. Text vs. Stock of Thoughts as Sources for Language Production

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BRIAN MOSSOP

Here are three examples.


(i)

A popular exposition in German about special relativity will not be an


intralingual rewording, sentence-by-sentence or even paragraph-by-paragraph, of Einstein's 1905 article, which the popularizer may well never
have read even though it is the ultimate source of the thoughts from which
s/he is working (it would be one of the texts B...N in Figure 2 that is
connected to the stock of thoughts by broken lines). Interlingually, an
English-language exposition will not be a translation of Einstein. If a few
sentences do prove to be sequential rewordings, then the writer was both
Translating and popularizing.
(ii) An autobiographer may describe her life to her ghostwriter, or an accused
may tell his story to a lawyer. Ghostwriter and lawyer then write or speak
on behalf of their clients, as does a dialogue interpreter in a hospital or
court. The difference is that lawyers and ghostwriters do not in principle
work from the detailed wordings of source texts; they may occasionally
reword from notes they have taken or documents they have been given by
their clients, but this is not inherent in their activity.
(iii) The English version of Canada's national anthem was inspired by the
original French, but is not a sequential rewording of it, as can be seen
from the first few lines:

[French original by Adolphe Routhier 1882]


O Canada! Terre de nos aeux!
[O Canada! land of our ancestors!]
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
[thy brow is circled with glorious garlands]
Car ton bras sait porter l'pe,
[for thy arm knows how to bear the sword]
Il sait porter la croix!
[it knows how to bear the cross]
Ton histoire est une pope
[thy history is an epic]
Des plus brillants exploits.
[of the most brilliant exploits]

[derived English text by R. Stanley Weir 1908]


O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
And stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

An English translation made a few years earlier had not been well received,
presumably because the themes of the French did not correspond to the
English-Canadian outlook at the time.
Now there are certainly cases where it is hard to distinguish the product of
sequential rewording from the product of thematic re-expression. On a recent

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

249

plane trip, the flight attendant announced in English that we have received our
landing plans and then in French that nous sommes autoriss atterrir 'we are
authorized to land'. Judging from her delivery, I do not think she was reading
from a script. The question is whether she was re-expressing a stocked thought
(i.e. co-producing, once in English and once in French) or using the English as
a source text. And if the latter, was she Translating or deriving? It's hard to say
with so brief a text, because we cannot really ask whether she was sequentially
processing chunks. And what of those West African novelists writing in their
second language (cf. Section 2.1)? If the writer was working from a passage in
a particular story taken from the oral tradition of his native language, then the
activity would qualify as Translating provided the resulting English or French
can be connected not merely to a theme of the SL story but to its detailed
wording. Of course the distinction between theme and wording could be
difficult to make here, since each telling of a story will have a somewhat
different wording.
Such difficulties should not however lead us to conflate rewording and
thematic re-expression, as is commonly done under the rubric 'rewriting'.
These are two very different modes of language production. It is irrelevant
whether we, as observers of a resulting text, are able to decide whether it was
produced by rewording, re-expressing, or a combination of the two. Neubert's
useful definition of translation as "text-induced text production" (1985: 18) is
thus insufficient because it does not distinguish the wording of an inducing
text from its meaning. Translating starts from words, not ideas.
Let us now turn to the final defining feature of Translating. When
language producers use source texts only as thematic inspiration or when they
work from a stock of thoughts, they may or may not aim to be loyal to their
sources. In Translating, however, loyalty is always an aim.

4. Translating Has an Imitative Purpose


Editors process a source text in sequential chunks, but their goal is to improve
it, not imitate it. Translating is here defined as having an inherently imitative
purpose. As Folkart points out (1991: 399), once a decision is made to discuss
translation in terms of reported discourse, the framework thus adopted is
inevitably mimetic. Translating is thus distinguished from activities which are
essentially oriented toward the requirements of the target context; that is,

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activities in which the source text is not important in itself.7 A person called a
translator who at a particular moment in the production of the L2 text is
writing, speaking or signing without an essentially imitative intent is not at
that moment Translating. A substantive proposal concerning the nature of
imitation is outlined in Section 6.1. As will be seen in 6.2, however, Translat
ing is by no means purely imitative.
For the purpose of defining Translating, there is no need to quantify the
degree of imitation sought, or to give a positive definition of imitation. It is
sufficient to describe it negatively, as the absence of an intention to add,
subtract, parody etc. The degree of imitation actually achieved is of course not
relevant to a production theory.
Rewording within a language does not, generally speaking, aim at imita
tion. For example, when plain-language versions of legal and bureaucratic
texts are created by rewording an original text that uses "legalese" or
"bureaucratese", the purpose is to clarify. Elsewhere (Mossop, unpublished), I
argue that, precisely because of their clarifying purpose, paraphrasing activi
ties should not be conceived as "intralingual translation". If a nurse para
phrases for a patient a doctor's medicalese, and herself uses medicalese, her
effort would serve no purpose, and that is why such non-clarifying rewordings, though theoretically possible, do not occur. A nurse who is clarifying for
a patient is engaged in derived language production, in the sense previously
discussed. Other instances of paraphrasing are parodies of the original, or in
some other way fail to aim at meaning preservation. Of course interlingual
writers and speakers may clarify or parody as well, but this is not essential: a
translation of a French medical text into an English medical text, both equally
difficult for the lay reader, serves a very clear purpose.
I want to emphasize that I am making a theoretical point here, not a
practical prescription. I am not saying that it is desirable for people called
translators to have an imitative goal; indeed this may be highly undesirable in
some circumstances. Nor am I making any judgment about which activities
can rightly have the English t-word 'translate' applied to them. That is a social
issue, of no concern here. In this article, I am concerned solely to identify a
viable object of study, and that object, I am specifying, is amongst other things
a rewording process that has an imitative purpose.
Having said that intralingual rewording is not generally imitative, I now
come to the exceptions. Our nurse could of course repeat, in medicalese but
with different wording, what the doctor had said in order to check whether she

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251

had heard the doctor correctly. Or she could repeat her own lay-language
statement to the patient if she thought she had not been heard, or wanted to
emphasize a point. Repeating is certainly imitative, but it is not quoting. Our
repeating nurse is not purporting to demonstrate anything about the doctor's
discourse. Her repeating work is thus not translational; she is simply express
ing a thought more than once.
A second exception is quoting during oral narration, as in example (3)
above. Such non-fictive quoting does indeed often aim to imitate the original.
However the intralingual quoter cannot process the source in sequential
chunks, for the simple reason that the work is almost always done from longterm memory of the conversation being quoted. Typically, the gap between
source and rewording is hours or days, so that capturing the detailed meaning
in anything like its original compositional form is not a feasible goal. In
Translating, the gap is a few seconds in simultaneous oral or signed interpreta
tion, somewhat longer with dialogue interpreting, up to a minute or so with
consecutive (and memory is here aided by note-taking). A much higher level
of imitation can thus be targetted than in intralingual quoting,8 though of
course never as high as when the source text is recorded.

5. The Interlinguality of Translating


Whenever language production conforms to all three features already de
scribed (free direct quoting, sequential chunk processing, imitative purpose),
it will, I think, prove to be interlingual. No form of intralingual language
production meets all three criteria. For example, editing is sequential, but not
imitative. Quoting during narration is often imitative, but not sequential.The
work of a conference rapporteur can be imitative and (indirectly, via notes) it
can be sequential, but it is not direct quoting (first-person quotes appear only
incidentally).
Somewhat surprisingly, then, interlinguality is not a defining feature of
Translating; its inclusion would be redundant. Nevertheless there are a num
ber of matters related to interlinguality that bear on definitional issues.
First, one of our defining features, 'imitation', is closely tied to the
interlinguality of Translating. As I argue elsewhere (Mossop, unpublished),
the achievable degree of imitation when rewording is much greater if a second
language is used. Consider synonym sets: one word will be more technical,

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BRIAN MOSSOP

another more formal, a third more current, a fourth more literary, and so on. If
an editor replaces a word with a synonym, there will be a small change in
meaning. But in a second language, it will very often be possible to find a
word at the same level of technicality, formality, etc.
Second, interlinguality means that two different linguas are involved, a
lingua being some person's native language. A standard language is a lingua,
but so is a geographical, temporal or social-class dialect. If two linguas are
sufficiently different that speakers find a need for linguistic assistance, then
the assistant's activity is interlingual, and if it satisfies the three defining
criteria translational. Thus creating subtitles in standard French for a film
spoken in the dialect of the Gasp region of Quebec counts as Translating.
Perhaps a distinction might be made between full lexico-syntactic Translating
where the problem lies in the completely different vocabulary and syntax
of SL and TL and the marginal Translating which occurs when the
translator's work is just a matter of pronouncing the text in a standard dialect
or substituting a few items of local vocabulary (e.g. British versus American
English).
Rephrasing between registers of a language (e.g. from medical to lay
language) is not interlingual because medicalese is not a lingua: no one speaks
English medicalese as a native language. It is a sublingua a selection from
the lexico-syntactic resources of English. Clarification of sublingua talk or
writing has mainly to do with ideas, not vocabulary or grammar per se. If you
cannot understand a Russian paper in advanced particle physics because you
never got past high school science, a translator cannot help you at least not
insofar as his or her activity is limited to Translating. What you need instead is
a science popularizer who reads Russian. Science popularizers fall into a class
of mediators (dispute mediators, cultural mediators) who are not in the first
instance dealing with linguistic problems. The need for Translating, on the
contrary, arises from the fact that some people do not know the lexico-syntax
used by other text producers.
Third, the interlinguality of Translating distinguishes it from transcribing,
a further type of language production which we can add to Translating,
deriving and re-expressing. Examples of transcribing are fingerspelling, trans
literating, reading aloud, turning oral tradition into written literature, and
preparing a written transcript of recorded oral proceedings. Machine transla
tion, though apparently interlingual, is perhaps better understood as an ex
tremely elaborate form of transcribing. A transcriber reproduces a text in a

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

253

different medium or a different notation, rather than quoting it in another


language. Transcribing is very often sequential, as when a news announcer
reads a script aloud, but it is not free direct quoting: reading aloud may be
creative, but the source script is not reworded, and there is no demonstrating.
Fourth and finally, if Translating is interlingual, then it is lingual.
Linguality is a defining feature of Translating when it is regarded semiotically,
as sign production. In this paper, I define Translating in relation to other sorts
of language production, but it could also be related to higher-level semiotic
acts. Thus Clark and Gerrig's theory of (linguistic) quoting is that quoting is
demonstrating, which is not necessarily lingual; I can demonstrate your danc
ing style as well as the propositional content of your speech. As defining
features of Translating, quoting and imitation are to be understood as lingual,
but one might also want to speak of architectural or musical quoting and
imitation. As for intersemiotic sign production, some instances can perhaps be
seen as deriving: Marleen Gorris' recent film Mrs Dalloway is derived from
Virginia Woolf s novel of that name. Deriving, unlike Translating, is not
necessarily lingual.

6. The Duality of Translational Quoting


Up to this point, I have engaged in a defining exercise, picking out just those
features needed to distinguish Translating from all other types of language
production. I have said that Translating is SIQ sequential imitative quoting.
In this section,9 I want to show what can be done with this definition, by
making a concrete proposal about SIQ.
Like all reporting, free direct quoting is an inherently Janus-like concept.
It is always both source- and target-oriented. One makes a report OF some
thing and one makes it TO someone; both aspects must be present. I therefore
propose that, if Translating is reporting, then a Translating translator is engag
ing not in a single sort of language work but in two. First there is the reporting
OF the source text;10 let us call this work 'rendering'. Second there is the
reporting TO an audience; let us call this 'pragmatic' work, of which there are
several varieties. The result is set out in Figure 3, an expansion of Figure 1.

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BRIAN MOSSOP

1 semantic rendering
2 lexico-syntactic rendering

1 EDITING (poorly written source text)


2 RETARGETING (for different use or reader
type)

3 phonetic rendering

3 ADAPTING (to ideology/culture/rhetoric

of receiving society)
4 ADJUSTING (for multimedia integration)
5 SUMMARIZING (e.g. dialogue in subtitles)
6 EXPLAINING (e.g. unrenderable expres
sions)
7 COMMENTING (metatextual & metalinguis
tic notes)
8 CO-ORDINATING (the participants in dia
logue interpreting)
9 COPY + PASTING (original TL material)

10 PICTURING (working from a diagram or


actual object, rather than from an SL
description of it)
ETC. etc. etc...
Figure 3. Rendering Work and Pragmatic Work

The list of pragmatic activities on the right-hand side of the diagram is


illustrative only; further consideration might lead to combining, splitting,
adding, subtracting or relabelling items. The term 'pragmatic' is perhaps not
entirely satisfactory since some might take it to include only those activities
which aim at conformance with target-culture norms, publishers' demands,
space limitations and so on. No such restriction is intended: pragmatic work
can be motivated by the translator's own writing project.

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

255

Figure 3 is not to be given a temporal interpretation; that is, pragmatic


work is not to be understood as following rendering. Nor is Figure 3 a
disguised literal-to-free scale: pragmatic is not a new term for free, and
rendering is not a new term for literal translating. It could be said that a literal
translation is one in which relatively little pragmatic work has been actualized
(i.e. little of it is manifest in the product); a free translation is one in which
relatively more has been actualized; and a non-translation is one in which
relatively little rendering has been actualized. But the purpose of Figure 3 is
not to classify texts; its purpose is to enumerate kinds of language production
work. With this approach, it becomes possible to maintain a unitary definition
of Translating, while allowing for an extremely broad range of final products.
The next two sections give a very brief account of rendering and of
pragmatic work, passing over many problems and issues which I hope to deal
with in future publications.

6.1. Rendering
Rendering is the work of representing the source text in another language.
Rendering is not representing presenting the text again to new readers in
another language but rather representing, depicting the source text without
regard to future users or uses. It is through rendering that the imitative goal of
Translating is realized.
What is rendered depends on what the translational imitator decides to
demonstrate (in the sense of Section 2.2). We can distinguish three broad
categories: imitation of meaning, of lexico-syntactic form and of phonetics. If
an intralingual rendering were of any theoretical interest, it would be very easy
to construct. A complete English rendering (of meaning, form and sound) for
hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock would be hickory, dickory
dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The interlingual case, on the contrary, is
extremely complex.
The imitated meaning is whatever meaning is attributed to the source text
by the translator. Thus the semantic rendering may contain errors; it may
concentrate on one type of meaning (e.g. propositional) and ignore others
(expressive); it may be deep (taking maximal account of co-text and context)
or it may be superficial.
What notation can be used to display semantic rendering? Consider the
following passage from an advertisement in French and the two lines of

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English that follow (neither of which would be very useful for an actual
advertising campaign, but that is a pragmatic matter):
(12) C'est parce qu'il rsiste au temps qu'il fait qu'il rsiste au temps qui
passe.11
(R1) It's durable because it's weatherproof.
(R2) Withstands the ravages of weather and thus the ravages of
time.
R1 captures the propositional content of (12) but misses its expressive content;
R2 captures some of the expressive content but the propositional content is not
quite right: the word ravage is too strong, and there are no ravages of time as
such, just ravages of weather extending over time. Translators may sacrifice
some aspect of meaning because the commissioner is not interested in it, or
because it cannot be expressed at the same time as some other aspect. But such
decisions are pragmatic matters. When rendering, no such selection is made.
This is most easily conceived in graphic terms, as (Rl) and (R2) written one
on top of the other, perhaps in different colours and fonts so that both are still
visible, in the manner of certain kinds of wall art a sort of palimpsest
without erasure.
Semantic rendering is akin to the process of stating in L2 the meaning of
an L1 expression, as discussed in Section 2.1. I have written the renderings
(Rl) and (R2) in English, but if the translator had used another language, or
language combination, to think about the meaning of (12), the semantic
rendering would be in that language perhaps Hungarian if the translator of
(12) into English were a native speaker of Hungarian. Lexico-syntactic and
phonetic renderings, to which I now turn, are of course always written in the
target language.
(Rl) and (R2) tell us virtually nothing about the vocabulary and syntactic
structure of the source text. When recorded texts are being translated, the
wording choices of the ST author are present to the translator's mind and
clearly influence the production process. Every rendering must therefore
include a representation of the lexico-syntactic structure of the source text, but
it is only in close written translation and "bad literal translation" that much
evidence of this rendering work remains in the final output. If the translator's
lexico-syntactic analysis is erroneous, that will be reflected in the rendering.
A lexico-syntactic rendering could be given in either one or two lines.
When TL and SL are structurally similar languages, it will often be possible to

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257

represent both vocabulary and syntax together:


(R3) It's because it resists the weather that is occurring that it resists the
time that is passing.
But with some sentences and probably with all sentences when SL and TL
are structurally dissimilar this will not be feasible. To represent the syntax,
TL lexical items will have to be slotted into SL syntactic structures, yielding
renderings like the mock-German If you will wait until I my clothes put on, I
will with your luggage help (Sternberg 1981: 229).
Collocations of lexical items need not be rendered idiomatically; hence
the somewhat odd resist time in (R3). This aspect of lexical rendering
together with the representation of SL syntax provides an account of the
peculiar translational version of the target language which is found in many
(all?) translations and perhaps arises from the sequential processing that
characterizes translation production.
Some SL features such as lexico-syntactic manifestations of illiteracy
will not be renderable at all. The same will be true of words referring to SL
culture items, and puns: in (12) the pun on temps is unrenderable since no
English word means both 'time' and 'weather'. Translators must use prag
matic techniques to deal with unrenderable words and structures.
Turning to phonetics: in film dubbing, when the actor on screen is
uttering an SL word containing a bilabial (p, b or m), the dubbing actor ideally
tries to pronounce a bilabial at the same moment, because viewers may be
disturbed if the closing of the screen actor's lips is not matched by an
appropriate sound (Whitman-Linsen 1992: 20ff). Thus, unless the SL or TL is
a signed language, the rendering will need to include a phonetic imitation of
the source text, in the manner of the Zhukovskys' famous version of Catullus,
or an actor pronouncing her lines with a foreign accent. Of course, in most
translation work, little or none of this will be actualized in the final output.
Using letters as a notation system for sounds, we could phonetically
render (12) as:
(R4) zipper ski rays east tote on keel fey . . .
An additional phonetics line may be needed to render sentence rhythm. Note
that, just as R1 imitates meaning, so R4 imitates sound; it does not substitute
sounds thought to evoke a meaning equivalent to the source. If a translator of
written poetry substitutes phonetic effects from TL poetics, that is pragmatic
work.

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BRIAN MOSSOP

It should now be clear that the different lines of a rendering are not to be
conceived as alternative translations. Rather they are imitative demonstrations
of various aspects of the source text. The lexico-syntactic lines of a rendering
come closest to one sense of "literal" translation: TL items selected with little
regard for TL idiom or rhetoric. But neither these lines, nor all the lines taken
together, constitute a translation; translation results when rendering is com
bined with pragmatic work, as described in the next section.

6.2. Pragmatic Work


It is through their pragmatic work that translators, working on behalf of
institutions which have commissioned them, re-appropriate the source text for
their readers or listeners. They make changes needed to extend its spirit into
the target culture, given the translation's intended uses and users. People
called translators may also, to use Barbara Folkart's term (1991: 407ff), seek
to confiscate the source for unrelated or even contrary purposes. In this case,
their work is non-translational because the purpose is not imitative.
What is the status of pragmatic work? I have distinguished Translating
from non-translational language production acts like re-expressing and deriv
ing; and I have said that Translating is a dual activity, its twin aspects being
rendering work and pragmatic work. Now while rendering is unique to Trans
lating, pragmatic work is not. EDITING and SUMMARIZING, for example, can
obviously occur during non-translational language production. Sometimes
pragmatic work can be seen as overriding rendering, but sometimes it simply
replaces it; that is, the language producer stops Translating and does some
thing else.
There is an interesting question whether some types of overriding prag
matic work tend to occur quasi-automatically during translation. For example,
Sguinot thinks that some of the EDITING work done by translators, improving
the logic of the source text, is an inherent part of translation production:
translators, she says, have to make a special effort to avoid making such
improvements (1989: 39).
Let's look at some other types of pragmatic work. First, COPY+PASTING.
Copying, unlike quoting and repeating, is not a communicative act. Examples
would be an actor memorizing lines by saying them over and over, or a scholar
writing down passages from a book. A copy, once made, can (to use a
metaphor from computer word-processing) be "pasted" into a communicative

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

259

act: the actor speaks the memorized lines during a performance; the scholar
inserts a copied passage into an article. Consider the title of the ScottMoncrieff translation of Proust's mega-novel A la recherche du temps perdu.
Terence Kilmartin, in his recent revision of Scott-Moncrieff, translates the
title as in search of lost time, but Scott-Moncrieff himself did not translate at
all; instead he pasted in a copy of part of the second line of Shakespeare's 30th
sonnet: "[when to the sessions of sweet silent thought / 1 summon up] remembrance of things past ".
The pragmatic work of PICTURING is commonplace in technical transla
tion. The translator comes across a complex or poorly written description of a
technical object, stops Translating, and simply describes the object, working
from a diagram or photograph, or from the object itself.
In film dubbing, EXPLAINING and ADJUSTING are often necessary. A char
acter with face turned away from the camera, who is saying nothing in the
source language, may be made to explain verbally something that was con
veyed by a certain hand gesture which TL viewers would not understand
(Whitman-Linsen 1992: 35). What a character says may also have to be
adjusted to achieve a fit between language and gesture (ibid: 33ff).
Cecilia Wadensjo has pointed out that a dialogue interpreter is not only
relaying content but also COORDINATING the people engaged in two-language
dialogue, for example by smoothing over a comment which the other party
may find insulting (1995: 308-309). Susan Berk-Seligson (1990: 70) gives the
following courtroom example, in which the final line replaces rendering with
a COORDINATING metalinguistic COMMENT addressed to the prosecutor:
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Had you expected that you would have to pay

another eight hundred dollars?


INTERPRETER: Esperaba Ud. tener que pagar ochocientos dlares adicionales,
seora? [. . . eight hundred additional dollars...?]
WITNESS: Adicionales, cmo? [additional, what do you mean?]
INTERPRETER: . . . she doesn't understand the word 'additional' in Spanish that
I used.

The effects of pragmatic writing will permeate the whole of a translation,


simply because it is being written for a TL context. The results of rendering
never appear in pure form, except perhaps with international technical termi
nology. Consider this passage from the transcript of a court hearing:

260

BRIAN MOSSOP

Alors compte tenu Votre Seigneurie que, l'individu videmment, je ne parle


pas d'un individu qui ne serait pas ses premiers antcdents en semblable
matire, et qui ce moment-l, comme mon confrre vous l'a mentionn dans
le cas de P..., que vraiment l'individu a tu dlibrment Votre Seigneurie de
sang-froid, je pense que l il y a une marge, ce n'est vraiment pas le cas.

Here is a linguistic gloss of this passage; a gloss is a marginal kind of


translation that manifests superficial semantic rendering and minimal overrid
ing of lexical-syntactic rendering:
So given Your Lordship that, the individual obviously, I don't speak of an
individual who is not at his first record in such a matter, and who at that point,
as my colleague has mentioned to you in the case of P...., that really the
individual killed deliberately Your Lordship in cold blood, I think that here
there's a difference, it's not really the case.

Here is the translation that was actually produced:


I am not speaking, Your Lordship, about an individual who has done such
things before and, as in the P... case mentioned to you by my colleague, killed
deliberately in cold blood. This is really a different situation.

This translation manifests, massively, the effects of SUMMARIZING, EDITING


and RETARGETING (the latter because spontaneous oral style was deemed
inappropriate for a written translation to be used for information). Yet as the
translator, I was indeed working from the detailed wording of the source text.
Rendering is not immediately observable here, but its imitative effects shine
through, so to speak, in the translation I produced.

6.3. The Primacy of Rendering


Translating is always a combination of rendering and pragmatic work. The
pragmatic work is of greatest practical interest. Without it, translations would
not be receivable by L2 readers and listeners. It is the site of translational
creativity, where the source text is fitted to the L2 environment, and where
new equivalences are invented when a passage is unrenderable. But it is
the rendering work which is of the greatest theoretical interest, because the
imitative goal of rendering is what makes Translating such a distinctive
linguistic act. Almost all language is reader- or listener-oriented; Translating
is peculiar because it includes, centrally, language production work which is
not so oriented. Where else do we find such an attempt to imitate a text in other
words?12

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

7.

261

Philosophical Conclusion

I have proposed that sequential imitative quoting (SIQ) be taken as an object


of study. Anyone engaged in SIQ is, by definition, Translating. Many of the
activities described by everyday t-words like 'translate', 'traduire' and 'adapt'
involve SIQ to one degree or another.
In essence I am saying: let us carve out of the world all those instances of
language production which satisfy the three criteria. But why pick out SIQ?
Two reasons. The first is subjective: it strikes me that picking out SIQ will be
conducive to progress in understanding translation, because it combines nar
rowness with generality. It's hard to make progress if you take too broad a
chunk of the world as your object. The combination of imitative goal and
sequential processing of the detailed wording of the source text does seem to
make Translating stand out from other language activities and thus make it a
good potential object for investigation.
My second reason for taking SIQ as object is philosophical. I think the
purpose of scientific investigation is to discover the underlying mechanisms
that generate the actual and experienced world the mechanisms that consti
tute Reality (Bhaskar 1978: 12-20; 244-246). I have picked out SIQ because I
believe it is a real distinct activity of the mind. When communication is under
way and the mind is engaged in SIQ, an observable resulting text will have
certain characteristics. That text may of course have other characteristics as
well, arising from other activities like re-expressing stored thoughts
which are under way at the same time.
Translating is thus an underlying generative mechanism which provides a
partial account of the observable output of certain language producers. At the
observational level, we find a wide range of outputs on the literal-to-free scale,
and translation simply shades off into non-translation, depending on the extent
of non-translational work and of pragmatic activity replacing rendering. But
by looking at the mechanisms at work at the moment of production, a unitary
definition of translation is achieved a feat that would be impossible if the
object of study were taken to be the whole multifarious range of observable
outputs in interlingual situations.
Translating has here been defined without reference to social functions or
social labels. The functions of translation its embedding in larger social
frameworks do not define it; rather they explain particular choices made by
translators on specific occasions. What linguistic label is placed on a language

262

BRIAN MOSSOP

production activity by the producer or by society is also irrelevant. The object


of theory is not a socially defined corpus of observed texts: there is no reason
to think that any such corpus would be the result of some single language
production activity.
The proposed definition succeeds in distinguishing Translating from a
wide variety of language production activities, both interlingual and
intralingual: deriving, co-producing, re-expressing ideas, fictive quoting,
quoting the thoughts of others, mental language conversion when using one's
second language, copying, repeating, transcribing, paraphrasing, ghostwrit
ing. In addition, a number of activities have been described as marginally
translational: interlingual indirect reporting; pedagogical translation during
second-language learning; translation for addressees already familiar with the
source text; TL glossing of a text to help people who have little or no SL
knowledge, and phonetic translation from non-standard to standard pronun
ciation. The notion of marginality implies no value judgment, any more than
does the assertion that a platypus, being a layer of eggs, is a marginal mammal.
Whatever definition of Translating we choose, there will be central and
marginal instances. The central/marginal distinction is in my view philosophi
cally preferable to the widespread notion of a cline, though there is no space to
argue this here.
There is of course much to be said about translation that is not covered by
translation production theory. Aside from the concerns of reception theory,
there are social issues such as the extent to which translation should be used
rather than co-production or language learning for inter-group communica
tion. Furthermore the facts of translation can doubtless shed light on human
mental functioning, on the potential for interpersonal understanding, on rela
tions between dominant and dominated societies, and on the development of
languages and literatures.
This paper has not been concerned with shedding light on such matters, or
seeing how translation might help or hinder the solution of social problems in
a world marked by increasing human displacement and friction among groups.
It has rather been concerned with what might be called the Saussurean
problem of seeing translation en elle-mme et pour elle-mme (in and for
itself).

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

263

Author's address:
Brian Mossop 14 Monteith Street TORONTO, Ontario M4Y 1K7 Canada;
e-mail: Brian.Mossop@PWGSC.GC.CA

Notes
1.

Toury (1995: 31) fears that any deductive approach to theory one that starts from a
definition will be normative. He proposes instead to define not translation itself but a
body of texts to be used as a methodological starting point for descriptive work, and
ultimately for determining laws of translational behaviour. This body of texts consists of
all those which are received as 'translational' in the target culture. A text is translational
if people in a culture assume there is a source text in another language from which it was
derived and with which it shares some features. In this article, I am not delimiting a class
of texts for study, but identifying non-normatively I think the features of a writing
or speaking act which make that act translational.

2.

A few theorists have attempted to relate translations to other metatexts (van Gorp 1978:
106; Popovic 1976: 232). Such proposals are not directly relevant to this present article,
where the concern is not to classify completed metatexts, but to enumerate the defining
features of the production process leading to them.

3.

Since the diagram has received some attention in the literature (Folkart 1991), I should
mention that the idea of using cartoon bubbles (rather than embedded rectangles) is due to
Ken Popert, who is listed in the acknowledgments of Mossop 1983 but not specifically
credited with the diagram.

4.

Pym (1995: 19ff) says that translators are by definition in an in-between location, but the
location he describes is more mental than geographical. I have tried to capture an aspect
of the translator's mental in-betweenness in Section 6. Geographically, some translators
are in an in-between zone (a French-to-English translator working in Montreal, a city
with two large language cultures) and some are not (a French-to-English translator
working in Boston).

5.

Pym (1992a: 54-56) argues that translation should be understood not as reported dis
course:
X to C: A said to B "t"
but as
X to C: s translates as t
Pym is looking at things from the reader's point of view. His schema answers the reader's
question "what is this text t?" (it's a translation of s), whereas mine is answering the
translator's question "what am I doing as I translate?" (I'm telling C what A said to B).
Nord too takes a reception point of view when, referring to Mossop 1983, she says that
only what she calls documentary translations are reports (1988: 12; 284 fn. 6). What she
calls instrumental translations are not reports, in her approach, because readers do not
experience them as being related to their sources.

BRIAN MOSSOP

Gutt (1991: 45-65) similarly suggests using a theory about a more general activity,
namely the use of language to interpret other language. He claims that an approach to
linguistic pragmatics known as relevance theory can explain all interpretive uses of
language, including translation. I too am invoking a more general language activity,
namely quoting, but I am not claiming that a theory of quoting in itself accounts for
translation. Quoting is just one of three proposed defining features, and the actual work of
explaining what happens during Translating does not begin until the theoretical object
has been defined.
The general process of resaying something in a new context was central to the work of
Mikhail Bakhtin, from whom I originally derived my idea that Translating is reporting
(cf. Voloshinov 1973 an extensive discussion of reported discourse in novels, though
with no mention of translation). This was part of Bakhtin's larger, interest in what he
called the dialogic nature of language: every text is to be seen as a mosaic of quotations in
the sense that it contains echoes of and responses to things previously read or heard. The
quotations, however, are not imitative. Foreshadowing skopos theory, Bakhtin saw them
as subject to "re-accentuation" to serve some purpose in the new context. Furthermore, he
made no distinction between the re-expression of thoughts drawn from a stock of prior
readings and the re-wording of one particular text. Ultimately, in this view, writing is
rewriting; even a direct description of reality is understood as a reaccentuated collage of
old descriptions. Bakhtin's approach is far too broad for the purposes of translation
production theory.
Folkart (1991: 263ff) discusses inter- vs. intralingual quoting at length, and concludes
that translations are a sui generis type of reported discourse; they are not direct quotations
(which she equates with exact-words quotations). Drawing on the approach of Danish
linguist Louis Hjelmslev, Folkart defines translation as the reporting of discursive form
(1991: 257ff). She distinguishes technical-administrative texts, in which the discursive
form is mainly the propositional content (impressionistically: the thought behind the
words), from literary texts, in which the discursive form is mainly the meaning connoted
by the author's idiosyncratic selection of language forms (the thought in the words). In
terms of Clark and Gerrig's quotation theory, these are two features of the source text
which can be demonstrated.
Section 6 is based on a paper read at the First Congress of the European Society for
Translation Studies, Prague, September 1995.
In a review of Mossop 1983, Witte (1986) suggests that my concept of Translating as
reporting is similar to Vermeer's notion that every translation "bietet einen Informationsangebot iiber einen A-Text" (1982: 99); that is, it offers information about a
source text. However Vermeer's development of the idea has been target-oriented: the
nature of the information the translator offers is determined not by the source text but by
the purpose (skopos) of the translational activity. Witte rightly notes that I do not
emphasize the skopos. As will be seen, I give theoretical pride of place to the translator's
rendering work.
Cruse (1992), from whom I have taken sentence (12), attempts to define prototypical
translation, that is, to identify features the possession of which will make a pair of texts a
better representative of the category 'X is a translation of Y' than a pair lacking them. For
this purpose, he uses three concepts he calls equivalence (of meaning), congruence (of
structure) and engagement (translating pertinent aspects of meaning) to define what he

WHAT IS A TRANSLATING TRANSLATOR DOING?

265

calls maximal translation, minimal translation and plain translation. All of these he
contrasts with optimal translation translation which "maximizes not degree of corre
spondence with the original, but fitness for a particular purpose". Such fitness is achieved
through what I have called pragmatic work, whereas correspondence is achieved through
rendering.
12.

Schreiber (1993: 125) suggests something similar when he distinguishes translation from
adaptation by saying that the former is invariance-oriented (except for the language
change) while the latter is variance-oriented (in my terms: it is centrally a matter of
pragmatic and non-translational work). Unfortunately his approach is needlessly com
plex because he tries to distinguish texts (translations and adaptations) rather than acts
(translating and adapting). A text, whether labelled a translation or an adaptation, can
result from a combination of transltional and non-translational work.

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