The situated act of translation

; (). The situated act of translation: Incorporating feedback loops into the system. In: 5th IATIS Conference: Innovative Paths in Translation and Intercultural Studies. (7-10 July). Belo Horizonte (Brazil): Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

Professional translation is a cognitive activity that is necessarily situated in a physical setting within an organizational structure. Most translators work within dynamic systems that require various degrees of collaboration with clients, peers, and other colleagues coupled with intensive human-computer interactions. In addition to the usual office equipment and communication systems, the typical setting of professional translation includes language technology tools designed to relieve translators of repetitive tasks and to increase their efficiency. The implicit assumption behind deploying such tools is to have machines do what they do best in order to let humans do what they do best – creative work requiring intense use of cognitive resources. The organization usually determines which tools are appropriate for which tasks, with more, less, or even no input from the ultimate users. Time and economic pressures often preclude the good practice of structured, systematic feedback loops.

On the basis of our research at professional translators’ workplaces over the past few years, we claim that the increasing segmentation of the translation process and consequent increased number of agents involved in the translation ‘event’ (cf. Chesterman 2006, 2009) is restricting translators' autonomy and decision-making in the cognitive ‘act’ of translating (cf. Toury 2012). While engaging in a demanding bilingual cognitive activity, the translators we have observed indicate that they are struggling to manage their responsibilities to a range of actors and factors (the source text, target language norms, readership needs, client style guides, and reputation issues) as they deal with the economic and temporal pressures to which they and their organizations are subject (cf. Ehrensberger-Dow & Massey 2013). Disturbances in the workflow or non-optimal ergonomic conditions can throw this complex system out of balance, increasing translators' mental load (cf. Muñoz 2012) and potentially preventing them from using language technology efficiently or from producing the quality that they are capable of. In addition, professional translators often have little opportunity to receive constructive feedback on their work, actively increase their expertise, or express their needs to language technology developers. We argue that it is not enough to rely on advances in external language resources or on cursory target-text revision processes. Instead, organizations would do well to exploit the expert knowledge of their human translators by incorporating effective feedback loops into every stage of the workflow.


Chesterman, Andrew (2006). Questions in the sociology of translation. In: Ferreira Duarte, João, Assis Rosa, Alexandra, & Seruya, Teresa (eds.), Translation Studies at the Interface of Disciplines. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 9-27.

Chesterman, Andrew (2009). The Name and Nature of Translator Studies. Hermes 42, 13-22.

Ehrensberger-Dow, Maureen & Gary Massey (2013). Indicators of translation competence: Translators’ self-concepts and the translation of titles, Journal of Writing Research 5 (1), 103-131.

Muñoz Martín, Ricardo (2012). Just a Matter of Scope. Mental Load in Translation Process Research. Translation Spaces 1: 169-188.

Toury, Gideon. (2012). Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond. Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.