II - Méthodes et pratiques

The role and nature of specialized writing in a translation-specific writing program[Record]

  • Ingrid Meyer and
  • Pamela Russell

I. Introduction

The great majority of professional translators work with texts that are "specialized" in the sense that they can be differentiated from "general" texts according to four parameters: purpose, target audience, subject matter, and structural conventions. The importance of specialized translation in the working world is reflected in the curriculum of Canadian translator training programs, which typically offer a number of courses in specialized translation.

In this paper, we argue that an important complement to specialized translation courses should take the form of specialized writing exercises in the dominant language. We first examine the role of specialized writing in the translation curriculum (Section H), and then discuss the nature of specialized writing exercises (Section III), giving some concrete examples in the Appendix.

Our reflections draw on experience in teaching writing courses within the translation-specific writing program offered at the School of Translators and Interpreters at the University of Ottawa. By translation-specific writing program, we designate a group of writing courses that are part of the translation program, i.e. that are designed for, and usually restricted to, translation students (for a detailed justification of this approach, see Meyer 1989). A program naturally implies an underlying organizational structure, which at the University of Ottawa is based on three categories of writing activities (see Meyer 1987 and 1989 for a detailed description): 1) error identification and correction, which includes problem-specific exercises and short texts, proofreading, and revision (both intra- and inter-lingual); 2) composition, both unilingual and parallel; and 3) summarizing, in the form of the précis (written and oral, intra- and inter-lingual) and the abstract


(intra- and inter-lingual). As discussed in more detail in Section III, specialized writing exercises can occur within any one of these three activities.

H. The role of specialized writing exercises

Specialized writing exercises are relevant to translation from two points of view, which are both examined in greater detail below: translation as a process and translation as a profession.

Relevance to translation as a process

The translation process has both an inter- and an intra-lingual dimension. On the one hand, translators are intermediaries between source and target languages and cultures. On the other hand, however, they are in a sense "creators" of the target language text, which as Toury (1980, 16) has pointed out, "goes on to serve as an ordinary message, in a regular wfrasystemic act of communication". It is this second dimension of the translation process that specialized writing courses address.

A first goal of specialized writing exercises is to develop a certain versatility in the translation student by providing writing practise in a number of specialized fields. As Darbelnet (1966,159) has pointed out, translators must be even more skilled than normal, i.e. unilingual, writers in the sense that they have less control over what they write, given their mandate to submit to the thoughts and means of expression of someone else. Specialized writing exercises aim to give students a method for acquiring the specialized concepts and writing conventions of different fields of knowledge, rather than the concepts and conventions themselves, since they cannot hope to become writing experts in all fields.

A second goal of specialized writing exercises is to shore up writing confidence in the dominant language, so as to reduce the risk of interference during translation. This is important since certain specialized text types follow different conventions in source and target languages. In commercial writing, for example, one finds significant differences between French and English in texts such as minutes (past tense in English, present tense in French) and letters (differences in punctuation, openings and closings, formulae of ...