Panel 18:The translation profession: Centers and peripheries (Helle V. Dam, Kaisa Koskinen)

In recent years, attempts to transform translation from a mere occupation into a full-fledged profession have been manifold and persistent. Many efforts have been put into establishing training programs at university level, accreditation systems, professional organizations, codified professional and ethical standards, and many resources have been dedicated to creating a distinctive knowledge base and a research community with its own journals, conferences, associations and networks. Despite these efforts, translation has not yet reached full professional status, and the boundaries of the field remain fuzzy.

The point of departure for the session proposed here is that translation constitutes an entity of practice - which may be referred to as “the translation profession” or “the translation occupation” according to individual preferences - that is sufficiently stable to be identified, defined and delimited from other entities of practice. But at the same time we take it that the boundaries of the profession (as we shall call it here) are porous and instable and that the people and artifacts that make up the profession - its agents - are in constant movement between its center and peripheries: some agents may be central at certain points in time, more peripheral at others, and eventually they may disappear from the configuration altogether, while new ones appear on the scene. Traditionally, for example, literary translators were located at the very center of the profession - they used to be the prototypical translators, the professionals that most scholars were interested in studying and those who most immediately came to mind when the word ‘translator’ was mentioned. Today, business translators seem to have come to occupy center stage. They are responsible for the bulk of translation in today’s globalized business world, and though they may still not enjoy the same recognition - and therefore central position in terms of status - as literary translators, focus in the translation literature and in conferences such as this one has shifted from literary to business translation over the last decades. As another example, translation technologies have moved from playing a marginal role to occupying center stage, and in some domains this change has pushed human translators towards the periphery. Also the question of the role of voluntary translation is pertinent. Volunteer translators have been seen as players operating in the periphery of the translation profession but are likely to become increasingly central in the future.

With the proposed session we invite contributors to explore the topology of the translation profession, focusing on its center-periphery relations and the way these relations develop over time and currently seem to be developing. Sub-themes and questions that we invite contributors to consider include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The location of different translation agents on the profession’s center-periphery continuum: which agents are more central/peripheral: freelance vs. in-house translators, (written) translators vs. interpreters, literary vs. business translators? And what about localizers, pre- and post-editors, revisers, terminologists, information retrievers, documentation/project/translation managers, technical writers, multilingual specialists and similar translation(-related) professionals: where do we place them on the center-periphery continuum, and are they translators at all? How important are these groups in the field of translation today, and what developments are we currently witnessing? Are they becoming more or less numerous, more or less central? Do translators and translator-related professionals call themselves translators or not? Why (not)? What are the developments in translators’ naming conventions and why? 
  • How solid is the center of the translation profession, and is it becoming more or less solid with time? This question is also linked with the profile of practicing translators and how it is developing: is the profession consolidating as a female, part-time, freelance and transitory occupation or is it developing towards a more gender-balanced, full-time, salaried (in-house), life-long occupation? What is the relationship between untrained practicing translators and trained professionals (who are more numerous, more central?) and how is it developing? Why, and what are the consequences?
  • What is the relationship between machines and humans in the field of translation? Are machines becoming more central and humans more peripheral? Will translation technologies eventually substitute human translators altogether in some or even in all areas? Or could it possibly be that translation technology - by taking over all the routine tasks and leaving only the skilled ones for the humans - will eventually empower human translators and put them in a more central position than they are today?
  • In recent years, voluntary, pro-bono translation has been spreading, and networks of volunteer translators and interpreters such as \'Babels\' and \'Translation for Progress\' have been formed. What is the role of these presumably peripheral players on the translation scene? Are they threatening the livelihood of professional translators? Are there any signs that voluntary translation is moving from the profession’s periphery towards its center? Why, and what are the consequences for the profession and for professional translators?