Translator stars and heroes: a Danish study of translators’ weblogs

Helle V. Dam has written an article on translators’ weblogs. It appeared in a collection in 2013 – the whole 20-page article can be found as a PDF online: The Translator Approach in Translation Studies – reflections based on a study of translators’ weblogs. . It’s part of a number of research projects in translation studies that are focused on the translator and possibly to be called ‘translator studies’.

I saw it on Richard Schneider’s blog at Selbstbeweihräucherung oder PR für die Übersetzerbranche? (German article with several extracts from the article, in English).

The study is based on the front pages of 20 weblogs on 8 October 2012, including the translators’ self-presentations where present.

The 20 weblogs studied are ‘drawn from the blog trekker page of the American Translators Association’ on 8 October 2012. Here is the blog trekker page at the date of this post. There are well over 100 blogs there – 168 on the day it was consulted for the study (not all translators’ blogs though – but why is Fucked Translation missing?), so the selection is not random. There’s quite an emphasis on self-promotion in the blogs, so one wonders whether the selection was made after the focus was chosen. Perhaps so. But since Transblawg, one of the first translation blogs, started in 2003 there has been a huge blooming of the translator weblog worlds, and self-promotion and promotion of other translators is certainly a feature that has often struck me. Here’s something on the choice of bloggers:

In the selection of respondents, every effort was made to ensure a sample of translators with a strong professional profile, thus presumably at the high end of the translatorstatus continuum.

Statements like the following seem based on the particular selection:

Translators blog, they blog extensively and enthusiastically, and as we shall see, they quite learly blog for empowerment. They also blog to boost their businesses (cf. Dam in progress), but the focus and aim of the present study is to investigate what blogging translators say to enhance their own and their profession’s status. … Applied to the present study, I assume that blogging translators contribute to changing (or perpetuating) existing perceptions of themselves and their profession – including their occupational status – by talking or writing about these issues in a certain way.

I wonder how far translator blogs can change the perceptions of translation – it depends on who reads the blogs.

There are paragraphs on income and pay rates, skills and expertise, and visibility/fame:

The translators in the sample, however, are clearly networkers and use their blogs to create an authentic community of blogging translators. They link to each other’s blogs, they comment on each other’s blog posts, they write guest posts on each other’s blogs, they share jokes, experiences and knowledge, and they also refer very explicitly to each other in their blog posts …

I won’t summarize the whole thing but I was particularly interested in the topic of self-promotion and the way translators create ‘translator heroes’.

The bloggers in the sample also mention and promote translators outside the blog community.
For example, in a report from an ATA conference, one blog author refers to a non-blogging translator as follows: “star translator and international speaker Chris Durban” (15, 3). This leads us to a different, but related, feature of the blogs: the construction of professional ‘stars’. … Not only do they emphasize the star qualities of some translators, such as the “star translator” Chris Durban in the above quote, they also cite interviews with translators whom they consider important and write glowing, obituary-like blog posts in which fellow translators are raised to stardom.

Dam mentions what is known as BIRGing (basking in reflected glory).

It does tend to irritate me that there are certain people and books that one feels a certain community of translators regards as sacrosanct so that criticism of them would appear petty and peevish. I’m not sure how far this kind of thing originates in American blogs – but not all the blogs in the sample are U.S. ones.

And then there are those blogs or sites that appear from nowhere offering a prize for the best language blog and inviting everyone to vote in order to increase their own traffic by buttering up translation bloggers.

The wider societal impact of translation is also often commented on. For example, several of the translators-cum-bloggers devote entire blog posts to describing a recently published book with the suggestive title Found in Translation. How Language Shapes our Lives and Transforms the World (Kelly & Zetzsche 2012). As one blogger says:

“It’s absolutely delightful that we finally have a mainstream book about our profession that’s accessible and interesting to those who are not in the profession. Ultimately, as a profession, we want the general public to know that what we do matters, and this book will leave little doubt that what we do matters a great deal.” (11, 2)

There is a final caveat, along the lines of the oozlum bird:

A discipline that studies its own practitioners is, however, neither very common nor unproblematic. Law scholars, for example, do not study lawyers but stick to studying the law. The reasons are obvious. By studying the law, legal scholars increase the body of knowledge in their discipline and thus enable its practitioners, and their own students, to become increasingly skilled and knowledgeable. Should translation scholars not be doing the same, studying translation (including translation tools, the development of translation competence, etc.) rather than translators? Are translation scholars not letting down translation students and practitioners if they study translators rather than increase the existing knowledge about translation? As we have seen, translators suffer from a low-skill image even as it is; if translation scholars do not focus on increasing the knowledge base of translation, they may in fact do more harm than good to the profession.

As for myself, my blog is not part of a blogging network, but I admit to wishing to appear knowledgeable about legal translation. I started it in 2003 after I had stopped teaching, and my original idea was to include a lot of the information I’d collected as a teacher of law and legal translation in a more permanent form than in a mailing list, together with trivial information about my life in Fürth. At the time when I started blogging, other translators often had more diary-like forms. Blogs vary from the ones analysed here. For instance, Richard Schneider’s blog I regard as a source of translation news rather than a record of the blogger’s own translation life. Or Martin Crellin’s German blog, False Friends, Good and Bad Translation discusses translation problems and errors.

Finally, here are the blogs referenced and links to them:

About Translation, by Riccardo Schiaffino
Catherine Translates, by Catherine Jan (author now an in-house copywriter)
Financial Translation Blog, by Miguel I. Llorens (author died in September 2012 but blog still there)
Musings from an overworked translator, by Jill R. Sommer
Naked Translations, by Céline Graciet
On Language and Translation, by Barabara Jungwirth
Patenttranslator’s Blog, by Steve Vitek
Thoughts On Translation, by Corinne McKay
Translate This, by Michael Wahlster
Translating is an Art, by Percy Balemans
Translation Times, by Judy and Dagmar jenner
Translation Tribulations, by Kevin Lossner
Translationista, by Susan Bernofsky (note change of address)
The Translator’s Teacup, by Rose Newell
Fidus Interpres, by Fabio Said (I htink this one is dead – was very prolific and has gone into book form)
The Greener Word, by Abigail Dahlberg (I fear this is dead – I liked it as a subject-specific translation blog)
The Interpreter Diaries, by Michelle Hof
Mox’s Blog, by Alejandro Moreno-Romos
Say What? by Alexander C. Totz (Apparently dead – author has started two non-translation blogs)
Words to good effect, by Marian Dougan

3 thoughts on “Translator stars and heroes: a Danish study of translators’ weblogs

  1. Hi Margaret,
    We appear to have discovered Helle v Dam’s article at the same time; I read it with interest and some exasperation, although on further examination I see that the authors have written quite a bit about translator self-awareness and image — issues I take very seriously. So I am going to try to dig up some of those articles.
    Chris (non blogger)

  2. Hi Chris,

    You will have been exasperated in a different way from me, perhaps also from my quoting the reference to yourself rather than, for instance, that to Jill! The creation of stars and heroes was what I found particularly interesting, although the part of the twenty pages devoted to the nitty gritty was really rather short to get any depth.
    I would like to see the other research work from Denmark.

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