Interview with Catherine Porter and Sandra Bermann

acompaniontotranslationstudiesBy: Eric Becker Published on January 6, 2015

Recently, I had the privilege to talk with Catherine Porter and Sandra Bermann about the release of their new book, A Companion to Translation Studies. Their book features 45 essays from leading translators, including the late Michael Henry Heim, that range from high-level investigations of the art to inquiries on specific quandaries facing the translator. With this new work, Porter and Bermann aim to bridge the gap between the academic and the casual reader. At the same time the volume is a nod to previous works of its kind, the editors have provided new perspectives designed to capitalize on the recent resurgence of interest in translation and to provide a new tool to students of translation and newcomers to the craft.

What got you started on this book project?

CP: There’s a bit of a backstory involving the Modern Language Association. Since the mid-2000s, the incoming MLA president has the privilege of selecting a theme for the annual convention. My year was 2009, and I knew right away that I’d choose translation. Shortly after the theme was announced in fall 2008, an editor at Wiley-Blackwell invited me to put together a volume of essays on translation studies for their Companion to… series. I found the prospect appealing but intimidating, so I put off answering until after the convention. By the time Wiley-Blackwell got back in touch, in spring 2010, I’d gotten acquainted with Sandie and realized that she would be a terrific partner for what looked like a pretty ambitious project. To my delight, she agreed, and we worked closely together for the next four years.

Did the recent apparent resurgence of interest in translation shape this book in any way?

SB: Yes, the recent resurgence of interest in translation has definitely shaped the book. From the MLA’s clear 2007 advice to “Develop programs in translation and interpretation,” to Cathy’s choice of the theme of translation for the 2009 MLA meeting, to our own experiences teaching and lecturing, to the many volumes now being published, it seems clear that there is growing interest in translation—both at the university level and in popular media. Some have called it a paradigm for studying our multilingual world. We wanted to provide a Companion to the field that might find a place in the university classroom but also on the bookshelf of the curious reader.

I might mention here several other volumes in translation studies that inspired our own, for example, Susan Bassnett’s groundbreaking book, Translation Studies (1980/1991/2002), as well as more recent contributions, including The Translation Studies Reader (Venuti 2000/2004/2012), A Companion to Translation Studies (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007), The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies (Munday 2009), and Critical Readings in Translation Studies (Baker 2010). All describe the field’s history while attesting to its recent contributions. We believe our volume addresses these topics while underscoring translation studies’ varied impact on a number of major fields as they are developing around the globe—from technology, to international relations, to literary study, and beyond. At the same time, it offers accessibility, inviting undergraduate as well as graduate audiences to discover translation’s possibilities and grapple with its challenges.

How did you decide what shape to give your book?

CP: We began by developing a comprehensive outline that included the broadest range of topics we could imagine. We then sent the outline with a call for proposals to a long list of scholars, teachers, and practitioners in the field. While we weren’t aiming for “coverage,” we sought variety and balance in terms of topics, methodology, and focus. We ended up, as we’d hoped, with a wide variety of essay types, from sweeping overviews of subfields to in-depth studies of narrowly defined areas of interest.

SB: This is a big book, whose 45 contributions describe the history and current state of the field, but also attempt to open it up, to provoke new debates, and to spur further research. Throughout, we made an effort to keep the language of these essays accessible to any reader with an interest in the field.

What distinguishes the book from others of its kind?

SB: As mentioned, the book is distinct through the sheer number of distinguished contributors and the scope of their topics. The 45 short essays along with the Introduction offer a succinct and reliable history of the field with special attention to its most recent contributions. It considers philosophical approaches, a variety of current methodologies, as well as new technologies, and multimodal approaches. At the same time, it provides particular insight into the way translation studies addresses different literary genres, and topics from different parts of the globe. While making no pretense to “cover” the globe, the book does intend to make the point that translation and reflections upon it have specific geo-linguistic as well as temporal contexts, and can vary greatly. The field’s current interest in the poly-cultural nature of translation studies—and translation history—emerges through a number of the essays. We certainly hope this spurs further research and reflection.

CP: The field of translation studies has been expanding rapidly since the 1990s, and a number of excellent readers and critical studies have become available in recent years. But no volume has yet attempted to address the field’s increasing importance to education today while inviting undergraduate and graduate audiences to discover its potential on their own. Through the voices of new as well as established scholars addressing a range of pertinent topics, the Companion to Translation Studies is designed to fill this gap.

Who are you aiming to reach with this book?

SB: Our target audience includes undergraduate and graduate students, as well as translators, translation studies scholars, and ordinary readers who want to know more about this increasingly important discipline.

What did you find most gratifying about working on A Companion to Translation Studies?

CP: Unquestionably, the collaborations: with the authors, from whom we learned so much and whose work we sought to edit with respect and care; with our assistants, who helped us with editing, documentation, and indexing; with our editors at Wiley-Blackwell, who backed us up at every turn; and above all with each other: we were always essentially on the same wavelength, and we managed to divide up tasks in ways that I think worked well for both of us.

SB: I agree. Though the intellectual challenge of organizing such a project was a pleasure in itself, even more stimulating was the opportunity to work with so many brilliant and engaged colleagues, editors, and graduate assistants. Particularly gratifying was the strong sense of collegiality that developed over the course of the writing—among so many collaborators and especially between the two of us, who worked as co-editors of the volume.

How can readers get a copy?

CP: Here’s a complete reference: A Companion to Translation Studies, edited by Sandra Bermann and Catherine Porter, published in March 2014 by Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-0-470-67189-4. The book can be ordered directly from the publisher (see or from your favorite local bookseller. A digital version is also available through Wiley Online Library (for terms and conditions, see