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Translation Studies

Translation studies is a relatively new discipline that, as Mona Baker points out, has ‘grown at a phenomenal speed’ since the 1970s and 1980s.1 Introductions to translation studies point to a number of signs of its vitality, including the growing quantity of specialist journals, the establishment of centres for translation studies, and the founding of new series devoted to translation.2 Also apparent are the first stirrings of popular interest in translation studies, as reflected by the reception of a recent book by David Bellos.3 There have been similar developments in the French context, although the discipline has grown at a much slower pace in France than in other francophone countries. Two of the most important journals, Meta: journal des traducteurs (1955–) and TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction (1987–), were founded in Canada, where progress in the field has been significant from the outset. Other journals promoting scholarship on translation and French include Babel: revue internationale de la traduction (1955–) and Palimpsestes (1987–), both founded in France. The number of research centres for translation studies in French and francophone countries is still growing; the Centre d’études sur la traduction at the Université Paris Diderot-Paris 7, created in 2011, is one of the newest. Not surprisingly, some of the main centres for translation research are in Canada, for example at Concordia University in Montreal, the University of Montreal, and the University of Ottawa. One of the most important centres in France is the Centre d’études et de recherche en traductologie de l’Artois (CERTA), which publishes the series ‘Traductologie’. Professional schools such as the École supérieure d’interprètes et de traducteurs (ESIT) have also contributed to the development of the discipline. Centres in other countries that have fostered interest in French translation include the Centre for Translation Studies (CETRA) at KU Leuven in Belgium, and the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.

Today, translation studies is a vast interdiscipline extending from the arts and humanities through the social sciences to computer science. This état présent, [End Page 377] therefore, is necessarily extremely selective, considering only those subfields that are likely to be of greatest interest to French Studies readers. It focuses in particular on translation theory and literary translation, the history of translation, and linguistic approaches to translation studies. Notable subfields excluded from the survey are the more applied areas of machine translation, translation in specialist fields, localization, and interpreting studies. Other regrettable omissions include recent research in the emerging field of cognitive translation studies, as well as work on the place of translation in education, a topic that deserves more attention.4

Translation theory and literary translation

This section discusses current scholarship on literary translation alongside the most relevant theoretical developments, all the while maintaining emphasis on French. There is no space here to provide a comprehensive overview of developments in the general field of translation theory. Instead, readers are referred to Anthony Pym’s excellent Exploring Translation Theories, which examines seven different theoretical paradigms: ‘natural equivalence’, ‘directional equivalence’, ‘purposes’, ‘descriptions’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘localization’, and ‘cultural translation’.5 Although early francophone translation theorists such as Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet are relatively well known across the discipline,6 the general and the French-specific fields remain quite separate today. There are numerous explanations for this, including, ironically, a linguistic barrier: the fact that for a long time the work of some of the most influential theorists remained untranslated cannot be underestimated. Michael Schreiber, in an insightful article on the reception of French translation theory suggests another reason, namely that there has not yet been any real canonization of theoretical work within the French tradition.7

The relative separation of the general and the French fields means that there is considerable variation in the way that translation theory is conceptualized. Where Pym uses a series of paradigmatic shifts to explore the various theories, French scholars often employ a tripartite division between theories that are prescriptive, descriptive, and prospective.8 Inês Oseki-Dépré’s book illustrates the value that tends to be accorded to prospective theories in the French context; these theories...