The cognitive reorientation of research in translation

Advances in information technology made personal computers cheaper and the translation industry and workforce adopted them massively by the end of the eighties. The new computerized environment has made it possible to register keystrokes and mouse use (keylogging) and also to videocapture the screen as the translation process unfolds. Time has become a quantitative parameter that concentrates the efforts of many researchers, such asArnt L. Jakobsen, who invented Translog, the most popular keylogger in translation process research. Proponents of multimethod procedures, such as Fábio Alves (2003), soon welcomed eyetracking as an additional non-invasive data collection method (e.g. Jakobsen, Göpferich & Mees 2008). Both keyloggers and eyetrackers’ log files are often used to stimulate retrospective think-aloud as a way to triangulate data. Process and product approaches are now often combined (e.g., Englund Dimitrova 2005). Corpus linguistics, and concepts such as Choice Network Analysis (Campbell 2000) are being explored to incorporate text analysis into process research. Empirical works are not only more reliable; there are many more researchers carrying them out, so that Snell-Hornby (2006: 115) describes this upsurge as an “empirical turn.”

Methodological innovation and enhanced rigor run parallel to theoretical renewal. Concepts from earlier (linguistic/communicative and MT) views such as competence (e.g., PACTE 2003), translation unit andequivalence still have some adherents, and developments within those lines, such as Relevance Theory (e.g.,Gutt 2000) have an important impact. However, a shift towards using Cognitive Science as referential framework may be said to have started at the Kent Psychology Forum held in May 1995 in Millersburg, Ohio (Danks et al 1997). Contributions not only from linguistics and psychology, but also from neuroscience and Natural Language Processing and increasingly interdisciplinary efforts (e.g., in bilingualism, reading and writing research, human-computer interaction) line up now at the interface between translation and cognition (e.g. Shreve & Angelone 2010; see O’Brien 2013). As a result, more updated cognitive frameworks are being proposed for translation and interpreting research (e.g., Muñoz 2010; Risku 2010).

Tackling a whole new range of research topics is now possible, thanks to the combined strengths of new methods and new approaches to cognition. For example, the role of metaphors in processes, products (Tirkkonen-Condit 2001) and in the theory (Martín de León 2005); the importance of expertise (Sirén & Hakkarainen 2002), feelings (Laukkanen 1996), intuition (Hubscher-Davidson 2013), and metacognition (Shreve 2009) in cognitive processing; and the interaction with other people (Risku & Dickinson 2009) and with computers (O’Brien 2012) are gathering momentum. Research is now getting out of the lab and going into the workplace (e.g., Massey & Ehrensberger-Dow 2011).

Research results are still tentative and far too varied, but advances are already noteworthy. All this would not be possible without larger ranks of researchers who are better organized and make full use of improved communication means. Research teams from different universities (e.g., Aarhus, Eastern Finland, Kent State,Stockholm), centers (e.g., CRITT), labs (e.g., LETRA), and groups (e.g., PACTE, PETRA), to name but a few, are gathering in focused meetings and networks, such as TREC. Cognitive approaches finally seem to be on the right track and the next two decades will be crucial to determine whether it can deliver an empirical description and a solid explanation for the cognitive aspects of translation and intepreting tasks.

Ricardo Muñoz Martín

The field is slowly but steadily moving towards updated understandings of cognition that have challenged the focus on isolated, conscious rational thought, and have opened the door to the study of emotions, intuition and uncertainty, and their influence on the ways people translate and interpret. The translators and interpreters’ experience and beliefs have been shown to have a bearing on the way they carry out their tasks, but not necessarily on their products. This has paved the way to study individual psychological traits and preferences, which compound into personal working styles. Much research is and will be carried out in labs, but now the full environment and conditions are also being observed, and research has also reached the working place. New settings and research topics call for an adjustment in research methods, and some multi-method strategies are being implemented that may soon shed light on the most appropriate ways of tackling different research goals.

Muñoz (2014:72)

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