Logos Multilingual Portal

40 - Profession, learning, memory

"Something like a rapport even developed between Mother's middle sister and myself; she began to understand that I was not taking after the Ardittis and that I was determined not to concentrate on earning money but to go into an 'ideal' profession"1.

In the conclusion of this fourth part of the online course, we'll speak of the fact that, when a translator thinks she is nearly though learning, that really means that the time has come to start all over again. Every time a goal is reached, in terms of quality of one's own product, of productivity, of serenity, efficiency, ability to tackle problems, it's time not to relax and rest on one's laurels, but to roll up one's sleeves and face new challenges of intellectual and, why not, physical character.

The translator's activity maintains a high rate of intelligence even when such an aspect seems relegated to the background by repetitiousness, by being an activity in which sometimes our conscious awareness participates in a secondary way.

Translation is always intelligent behavior - even when it seems least conscious or analytical. Translation is a highly complicated process requiring rapid multilayered analyses of semantic fields, syntactic structures, the sociology and psychology of reader- or listener-response, and cultural difference. (Robinson 1997: 50).

It is exactly for this peculiarity, that the translator's activity is one that implies an increase in learning. The more you translate, the more you learn. Maybe for this reason translators in general are people inclined to learning in any moment and situation, even when they are not properly working. As Robinson says,

Translators learn words and phrases, styles and tones and registers, linguistic and cultural strategies while translating, while interpreting, while reading a book or surfing the internet, while talking to people, while sitting quietly and thinking about something that happened. (Robinson 1997: 51)

Being always concentrated on the mediation between systems, they often can't "switch off" and analyze phenomena and small facts of everyday life in the light of the possibility of communication, they realize that two people or two agencies don't understand each other due to a lack in the "culture of the borderline", that maybe two entities think they disagree for lack of communication or, on the contrary, for lack of ability to mediate they do not realize they have needs and absolutely irreconcilable tendencies.

If it is true - and I think it is - that every man is a translator, in Quine's opinion, because as a child he has to face the obstacle of radical translation and of the indeterminacy of translation, it is true also that such a phenomenon has a symmetry in the fact that any translator finds food for her thoughts and her reasoning in manifold aspects of everyday life. It is never clear when a translator works and when she rests, because any circumstance of life can be considered - if viewed in the right light - a training ground. What's more, Peirce has substantially written that any act of thought, any reasoning is translation.

A sign must have an interpretation or signification or, as I call it, an interpretant. This interpretant, this signification is simply a metempsychosis into another body; a translation into another language. This new version of the thought received in turn an interpretation, and its interpretant gets itself interpreted, and so on, until an interpretant appears which is no longer of the nature of a sign. (Peirce, in Gorlée: 126)

One of the instances in which that is self evident is the question of memory. Memory is the abstract entity in which any reasoning takes place, and leaves its sign.

Memory can be divided into two modes: representative and procedural memory. The two types of memory are complementary and often necessary in inextricable way. The former is to remember specific events, to recall images, facts, percepts to the mind; the latter is more like a "working memory", in the sense that in it procedural customs are recorded that are the ones that make it possible for us not to work too hard - mentally and often physically as well - any time we do a given action as the first time we did it.

In the case of translation, representative memory helps us when we have to remember the meaning of a word, the context in which a given expression occurred; procedural memory allows to use a word in a translation in an efficient way, to modify the structure of a standard or marked sentence so as to produce a standard or marked sentence in the metatext, to perceive a given combination of words as permanent and search in one's mind a combination of words that can be its translatant, without spending the time necessary to find out the meaning of the single elements that make it up.

Since memory can also be divided in intellectual and emotional, while for intellectual memory the efficiency of mind is important, the ability to reason, formal logic, preserving distinctions between different layers of reasoning, for emotional memory is fundamental the emotional context in which an action occurs.

The more pleasurable you find translating, editing, hunting for obscure words and phrases, the more rapidly you will become proficient in those activities. (Robinson 1997: 54)

Therefore, I think it is indispensable concluding this part of the course to exhort all those that intend to start a career as a translator, or that have already done so, to observe one another to understand if, in fact, they find it an involving activity on the emotional plane, and only in that case push forward along this path.


In the part of the course that follows two great aspects of the translation process find place. The tools that translators must use: the more traditional ones - dictionaries, encyclopedias and other reference books - the most modern ones, like the internet, translation memories, electronic corpora. Moreover, what happens to a translation when it is published or at least delivered: the ways to analyze its quality, translation criticism, comparative analysis of prototext and metatext. They are special subjects that find their natural place at the end of the long path traveled by those who've followed the course up to his point, for what have been four years for the writer, while, for learners, can have been more or less than that, according to the rhythm that anyone imposes or allows oneself.


Bibliographical references

CANETTI ELIAS Die gerettete Zunge. - Die Fackel im Ohr. - Das Augenspiel, München, Carl Hanser Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-446-18062-1.

CANETTI ELIAS The Tongue Set Free. Remembrance of a European Childhood, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-19950-7, p. 1-286.

GORLÉE D. L., Semiotics and the Problem of Translation. With Special Refe-rence to the Semiotics of Charles S. Peirce, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1994, ISBN 90-5183-642-2.

ROBINSON DOUGLAS Becoming a Translator. An Accelerated Course, London and New York, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0-415-14861-8

1 Canetti 1999: 211.