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Douglas Robinson (2012). Becoming a translator: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation, 3rd edition.

London and New York: Routledge, £ 36.93 / $44.95, pp. 248, ISBN: 978-0-415-61590-7 (Paperback)

Douglas Robinson’s third edition of Becoming a Translator: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation seeks to familiarise mainly undergraduate students with the theory and practice of translation. Chapters 1-4 focus on what translators do and the process of translation, chapters 5-9 incorporate theoretical approaches to translation and chapter 10 concludes the discussion. Each chapter is supplemented with further reading as well as discussion topics and exercises. For the purposes of the book, these exercises and topics are well thought-out, and they will prove to be valuable resources for both teachers and students of translation. Written from the point of view of a professional translator, rather than a client or other user, Robinson proposes a pedagogy that aims at harmonising conscious analysis with subliminal discovery. It is a highly readable book, full of useful details about translation in professional settings. Of particular interest to students will be the description of a freelance translator’s working day (33), project managers’ views on translators’ working practices (49-52) and excerpts from discussions in online translation forums.

In chapter 1, Robinson introduces the concept of equivalence while discussing clients’ expectations to have their texts translated reliably, rapidly and cheaply (7). The subsequent discussion is engaging and encourages the reader to consider different aspects of reliability (textual and professional) and the relationship between clients’ needs and the concerns of translators. From the translator’s point of view (chapter 2), three “internal requirements” are presented: professional pride, income and, refreshingly as this aspect is often neglected, enjoyment of one’s work. One way for translators to increase their income is to translate faster. To this end, the author provides an evaluative overview of translation memory software dedicated to increasing the speed of translating.

Chapters 3 and 4 set out theoretical principles and their application in translator training. The translator is seen simultaneously as a professional and a learner “shuttling between two very different mental states and processes: 1) a subliminal ‘flow’ state, in which it seems as if the translator   isn’t even thinking”, and 2) a ”highly conscious analytical state” where the translator performs linguistic, cultural and pragmatic analysis (60). To chart the relationship between experience and habit in the process of translation, the author employs Charles Sanders Peirce’s (1857-1913) three-step process of instinct, experience and habit (62-63) and the related notions of abduction, induction and deduction (63-65). Additionally, Robinson refers to Weick’s cycle of ‘enactment-selection-retention’ (65-67) and transposes both approaches to the process of translation. Thus, Robinson considers abduction to correspond to intuitive leaps, induction to pattern-building (which derives from reflection on experience) and deduction to translation rules and theories.
Based on intuition, which should derive from accumulated experience, the translator may occasionally arrive at solutions to translation problems that “feel” right without being certain that they are right (70). It is questionable, however, how useful “feeling” is as a concept in translation education, as it is does not help us to understand or explain why something might feel right (or wrong). The author subsequently adds that perhaps the translator should mark their solution to the problem “with a question mark for the agency or client to follow up” (70), a suggestion that would be controversial with many professional translators and project managers: if clients were able or willing to solve translational problems they would not employ translators.

Chapter 5 explores what people do with language, and the relationship between meanings and contexts. This discussion becomes a launchpad for stressing appropriately that a successful translation requires a people-oriented understanding of such considerations as who wrote the text, for whom and for what reason. Chapter 6 looks at terminology and its relationship with professional practices. Robinson contends that terminology studies focus on terms instead of how people use these terms (109). He then argues that translators are “fakers” who pretend to speak like and employ the terminology of practitioners of professions they have never practiced (109). Through abductive projection into another profession, a translator “gains an intuitive guide to individual word choices” (110). The author concedes that this guide is never wholly reliable and that one may argue that if translators had to base their decisions on guesses they should not have accepted the job. This is an important objection to which Robinson responds by arguing that all translation contains an element of guesswork (111). Elsewhere he proposes that the translation should be checked by someone who is sure about how a professional should sound (110). This approach raises a number of questions that remain unanswered in the book, for example, who is ultimately responsible for the quality of the translation? Even if guessing is not an uncommon practice in the professional world, is it  good practice? Further, what are the implications of promoting guessing as a trusted practice for translation as a profession ?

Chapters 7 to 9 introduce various theoretical approaches to translation. Language is acknowledged as “an integral part of every aspect of translation” (125). However, traditional linguistic translation theories are relatively peripheral in the book because they do not account for non-textual demands placed on translators (125). The exploration of other approaches includes Skopos theory, norms, feminist and postcolonial perspectives, but also more recent trends in research in Translation Studies, such as applications of Bourdieu’s sociology, as well as activist conceptions of the translator. The discussion is thought provoking, but too brief for a book that aims at introducing the theory of translation (as well as the practice) to undergraduates who have usually no experience of theoretical perspectives.

In the concluding chapter, Robinson emphasizes the centrality of analysis and reflection in the process of translating by considering a translator’s sensitivity to “alarm bells” and the important, but frequently overlooked topic of source text quality. Overall, the book presents a realistic account of professional translation. Despite some controversial advice and imprecise conceptualisation, its accessible style, discussion topics and examples from real translation situations make it a useful reference in undergraduate translation education.

Christina Delistathi, Brunel University
Email: christina.delistathi@brunel.ac.uk