Causality in translator training


Andrew Chesterman


2005a      In Martha Tennant (ed.), Training for the New Millennium: Pedagogies for translation and interpreting. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 191-208.




Causality is a central concept in any empirical science. What role does the study of causes and effects play in Translation Studies? Would Translation Studies appear more relevant to professional translators if aspects of causality were more prominent? How can a causal model of translation be applied in translator training?  These are the questions discussed in this chapter.

Contemporary translation theory makes use of three kinds of models. The first is a static model, focusing on the relation between source and target texts, as for instance in contrastive analysis. The second is a dynamic model, which maps the different stages of the translating process over time; typical examples come from communication theory. The third is a causal model, which shows the various causes and effects of translations, kinds of translations and linguistic features of translations. Possible causes and effects range from proximate or cognitive ones to situational and wider socio-cultural ones. Causes, or causal conditions, also vary in strength, from more deterministic ones to merely vague influences (see also Chesterman 2000).

         The causal model is the widest of the three, and in fact incorporates the other two; but it is seldom made explicit. Several approaches in Translation Studies are more or less implicitly causal: skopos theory, relevance theory, polysystem theory, critical culture studies, think-aloud protocol studies, and the whole of the prescriptive tradition. An explicit causal model can show how these different approaches are related. It can also highlight the importance of making and testing explicit hypotheses of various kinds. I argue that a causal model of translation also has obvious applications in translator training.