25 years of The Translator: Mona Baker, Moira Inghilleri and Dirk Delabastita in conversation with Sue-Ann Harding and Loredana Polezzi
Volume 26, No. 3, 2020
Pages 297-309 | Published online: 11 Jan 2021
This conversation, which took place in the summer of 2020, traces 25 years of publishing The Translator, from its inception and early days, to its establishment as a leading international publication in the field of Translation Studies, to the move from St Jerome to Routledge in 2014. We invited three scholars who have played different roles in the history of the journal and who are all part of its ‘historical memory’: Mona Baker, founding editor of both The Translator and the St Jerome publishing house, Moira Inghilleri, who was reviews editor and, later, co-editor and also guest edited two thematic issues, and Dirk Delabastita, the guest editor of the very first special issue of the journal, devoted to ‘Wordplay and Translation’, in 1996. Our questions and their answers take us through a quarter of a century of scholarship, publishing and personal memories.
is co-cordinator of the Genealogies of Knowledge Research Network, Director of the Baker Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, and Honorary Dean of the Graduate School of Translation and Interpreting, Beijing Foreign Studies University. She is a recipient of the 2015 Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences Award in the field of Arts and Languages, Studies in Foreign Languages and Literatures, and honouree of the 2011 Fifth Session of Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Award for Translation, for contributions to the field of translation. Baker is author of In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation (third edition 2018) and Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account (2006; Classics edition 2018); editor of Translating Dissent: Voices from and with the Egyptian Revolution (2016; winner of the Inttranews Linguists of the Year award for 2015); and co-editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (third edition 2020). Her articles have appeared in a wide range of international journals, including Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, Social Movement Studies, Critical Studies on Terrorism, Social Semiotics, The Translator and Target. She posts on translation, citizen media and Palestine on her personal website and tweets at @MonaBaker11.
teaches English literature and literary theory at the University of Namur and is a long-time member of the CETRA team at KU Leuven. His publications engage with fields such as translation studies, wordplay studies and the European reception of Shakespeare’s works. He is now increasingly focusing his research on literary multilingualism, with papers on ’Allo ’Allo, Bram Stoker, Charlotte Brontë, Joyce Carol Oates and Xiaolu Guo. Dirk has co-authored three dictionaries of literary terms, including Dictionnaire des termes littéraires (2005) in French and the online open-access project Algemeen Letterkundig Lexiconin Dutch. He has been on the editorial or advisory board of The Translator from the outset and has served on the boards of several other journals and book series. From 2012 to 2019 Dirk co-edited Target. His recent books include Multilingualism in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (co-edited with Ton Hoenselaars, 2015) and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in European Culture (co-edited with Juan F. Cerdá and Keith Gregor, 2017).
is Professor and Programme Director of Comparative Literature and Director of Translation and Interpreting Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Translation and Migration (2017) and Interpreting Justice: Ethics, Politics and Language (2012). She was co-editor of The Translator from 2011–2014 and review editor from 2006–2011. She served as co-editor for the Routledge series New Perspectives in Translation and Interpreting Studies from 2013–2018 and guest-edited two issues of The Translator: ‘Bourdieu and the Sociology of Translating and Interpreting’ (2005) and ‘Translation and Violent Conflict’ (2010, with Sue-Ann Harding). She has published in numerous journals and edited volumes, most recently, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media (2021), The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Globalization (2021), The Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (2020), The Palgrave Handbook of Languages and Conflict (2019), The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture (2018) and The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics (2018). In 2017 she was appointed to the Fulbright Specialist Program in the field of translation and migration studies for a three-year period.
Sue-Ann Harding (S-AH):
Our first question is about the early days: can you take us back there? How did The Translator begin? How did you do things then? How did you physically produce the journal?
Mona Baker (MB):
When I first had the idea, I never thought that I would be doing it in the way I did. And probably, if I had thought about it in those terms, I wouldn’t have started at all. But I have a terrible habit: once I start something I just cannot be forced to quit it. Back in 1992–1993, I was chair of the Education Committee of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in the UK and I noticed that there was a lot of tension between the profession and academia at the time. Academia was just dismissed as a complete waste of time. So I suggested publishing a journal which would be a flagship for the Institute and, at the same time, could try to get a discussion going between academia and the profession. We put the proposal together and sent it to Routledge. The idea was that we would team up with them and I would just edit the journal on behalf of the Institute. That was the ideal scenario. Routledge received 20 reviews for the proposal: 17 of them were positive and three were negative, for different reasons. Because the negative reviews were from very big names in the field at the time, Routledge got cold feet and decided not to go ahead. I was rather incensed by some of the comments in the negative reviews and became convinced that in fact the journal was really needed, because the field somehow had to break away from that circle of big names that dominated it. And so, I decided to publish the journal myself.
I went around local printers, asking: what do you do when you want to print something like a book or a journal? Would it be possible, if I brought the journal to you? They literally showed me the presses and said: yes, of course. Then I found the designer for the cover. I wanted it to be very different from other academic journals, because they seemed to me to be unduly bland and unengaging. So, I found the designer, found the printers and then basically sat in a back bedroom and started things off. When I went to conferences, I began to take leaflets about the journal and mention it to people. I also started approaching individuals I knew, who I thought had faith in me, asking if they would contribute articles for the first couple of issues, because that is how you establish yourself: people needed to see that some recognisable names were willing to publish in the journal. I did all the editing, all the ‘cleaning up’. And then we started marketing The Translator – in a very amateurish way. I had a friend who used to work for IBM. He saw that I was struggling and said: what you need is a database. So he set it up for me, with names of institutions, addresses, so I could send publications off and produce an invoice, all that kind of basic stuff. It was all very gradual and very, very amateurish. There is no way you could do anything like that now, I must say, because the context in which we work and publish is so very different. Today you wouldn’t stand a chance, really. At that time, there wasn’t all the pressure about impact factors, online publication, online interfaces. So you could still do things in that ‘old fashioned’ way.
Loredana Polezzi (LP):
Let’s stay with the early days, for a moment. Dirk, you were the guest editor of the first special issue. How did that happen? Did Mona approach you, as she just said she did with colleagues? And what about that decision to include special issues and make them a real feature of the journal?
Dirk Delabastita (DD):
I can’t remember the exact details of how Mona invited me. My ‘historical memory’ is letting me down here. It must have been by letter, obviously, because I had never actually met Mona in person. I was on the journal’s international advisory board from the beginning in 1995. Perhaps you had seen my PhD thesis or heard of it, Mona? And at some point you must have said: this might be a nice theme for a special issue. The translation of wordplay was at the heart of my 1990 PhD thesis and it was indeed a wonderful topic for a special issue, inasmuch as it is not a theme that defines a particular niche or paradigm in the field. Wordplay is a discursive phenomenon that you find in all kinds of contexts and genres, that has always existed, and that you can study from a variety of angles.
We organised a call for papers, and I received more than 50 abstracts, much to my pleasant surprise. I was also very lucky to get some funding from the University of Namur, so we could prepare a ‘king size’ special issue. We had more than 220 pages and there was enough good material for a companion volume, which was a great bonus. For the journal, we were able to publish a fully integrated special issue, with all the features of the journal: not just the introduction and the articles, but also a ‘Revisiting the Classics’ section, the ‘Course Profile’ feature, and a bibliography, all focusing on the same central theme. And I have to say that I got so much out of it myself. When you write your thesis on a particular topic you may think, quite naively, that you are the expert and that you know everything about it and have covered all of it. But with a special issue like this, you see abstracts and papers coming in that bring in new perspectives that you had never thought of. That was a rewarding experience – and it is a point that needs to be underlined. Because nowadays, often, the call for papers for special issues isn’t quite as open as it should be. Special issues today are very often predefined by existing research groups and projects with a specific programme, with the same group of people contributing and doing the refereeing. They serve as outlets for their conferences and conference panels, meaning that there is less ‘openness’ and less interaction than there should be with the research field out there. So it is more like a closed circuit. With this particular project, it truly was an open call for papers. And the results were, I think, quite positive. That being said, the special issue format wasn’t of course exactly new. Several journals in linguistics and literary studies had already been publishing special issues. Target had its first special issue in 1995, so one year earlier than mine. Meta had been doing special issues from the 1960s/70s onwards.
What you said about the call for papers is really interesting. Later on, in 2006, I guest edited a special issue of The Translator too and had a similar experience. When we did the call for papers for ‘Translation, Travel, Migration’, I remember receiving a huge number of proposals. It must have been 60 or more. At one point, with Mona, we did think about publishing a companion volume and to an extent I regret not doing it. There would have been enough material but I didn’t have the capacity, the time at that point. Coincidentally, although I already knew her work, that was the first time that I was in touch with Rita Wilson, who is now co-editor of the journal. She submitted an abstract which we did not select, in fact, mostly because of the way we were trying to balance the collection. Luckily (for me at least!) she didn’t take it badly. And that was the first time we were in contact with each other. So, yes, special issues can have all kinds of long term effects – including personal ones.
What was your experience, Moira, with the special issue you edited? Were you already connected to the journal?
Moira Inghilleri (MI):
No not at all. I met Mona at a sociolinguistics symposium in Ghent, I think it was 2002. She came to my talk and we spoke briefly afterwards and I think she suggested that I send something in for publication, which I eventually did in 2005. At some point Mona had invited me to edit a special issue suggesting maybe something on asylum and translation or on Bourdieu. I had just written a number of articles on the topic of asylum and wanted to do something different, so I said I’d love to do something on Bourdieu. I didn’t get as many abstracts as I would have liked and I didn’t get abstracts from people I would have liked to have contributed, because of course this was very soon after the boycott issue. I was fairly naive at the time because I was really not that aware of translation as an established field, though I had been reading different articles and books to get myself informed because I was teaching a class on translation theory at Goldsmiths. I started that job in 1998 and at my interview they asked me if I would be interested in teaching a course on translation theory, to take over from the person who had been there before. And I said, yes, absolutely, though I had no idea that there was such a huge literature in this area! My husband was working there at the time as well, so before I started the job I said to him: would you go to Goldsmiths library and just see if you can find any books on translation? He brought a bunch home and I read them to come up to speed, over the summer. So in 2005, I was still relatively new to the field. The first article I had published was in Target in 2003 and I had submitted it on the advice of Myriam Shlesinger, not yet knowing just how important and influential she was to the field of interpreting studies. I certainly had no real understanding about the politics surrounding what had happened in 2002, when Mona wrote an editorial in The Translator about the Boycott of Israeli Scientific Institutions. So it was a little bit of a struggle to get that issue together and I always feel it would have been a stronger collection with contributions from some of the key people writing on Bourdieu at the time.
There were many people who dissociated themselves from the journal owing to the boycott. What happened next? It surely affected the history of the journal, at least for a number of years, sociologically and intellectually, but the effect has probably disappeared, because there is a new generation of scholars for whom this is now history, an episode from the past …
People also changed their position, which was often initially based on wrong assumptions. Gradually, as they learnt more about the nuances of my own position and the situation to which I was reacting, some did change position. So the situation did change over time, for various reasons: the journal is now published by Routledge, of course; and sometimes people are just not aware of the whole history and do not associate the journal with that episode. But certainly, there was a campaign that went on for quite a few years. I remember the last attack in textual form was a message that was sent to all the editorial board of The Translator and also to my university in 2010 or 2011, and that was because the boycott movement was gaining momentum and often my name would be listed at the top of a letter in The Guardian, or something similar, even though I didn’t instigate it. So, even in 2011, that was still happening and it probably would have gone on and on, if it wasn’t for the fact that The Translator and St Jerome moved to Routledge.
At the time it affected me quite deeply, because everybody in the academic entourage around me was strongly opposed to the boycott. And I have never made it a secret that I was also against it, while also having a nuanced understanding of it, or at least that is what I hope. I remember talking about this to a friend who had been actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement and he said: a boycott is a good instrument but it can also be a dangerous weapon; you need to be sure that when you join something like that the momentum is strong enough, because if it isn’t, it can become quite divisive. And that is what happened, essentially, and what I found so painful about the experience. As I see it, there are people who do the right thing for the right reason, or the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason, or the right thing for the wrong reason. And my personal view is that the boycott was the wrong thing for the right reason. Partly, perhaps, because I am a consensus-seeking person by nature, and partly because of the entourage I was in, which meant that I had very divided loyalties. But I saw the deeper ethical motivations in what you did, Mona, and I also saw from a lot of the hostile emails that were circulating that people who were opposing the boycott were perhaps doing the right thing but not necessarily always for the right reasons. It was a complicated affair, and sometimes you are not even sure what is right and what is wrong.
Going back to the discussion you had with your friend, Dirk, yes, you need momentum for something to become effective, but that momentum cannot develop without individuals like us taking action, and it doesn’t develop overnight. People forget that it took some 30 years for the boycott of South Africa to become part of the mainstream. And the other thing is that when people talk about divisiveness, they’re talking about divisiveness strictly within the translation studies community, which I find somewhat self-indulgent given that this small community cannot be more important than the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of oppressed people. At the same time, divisiveness and conflict can be very productive: for one thing, without the boycott people would not have understood the situation in the Middle East. Many in the translation studies community in particular had no idea what was going on in Palestine/Israel, and the boycott was at least very successful in terms of raising awareness.
Shall we return to the special issue that Moira edited? For me that collection remains one of the key texts that mark the moment when sociology of translation became a crucial area of research in translation studies. With special issues in general, I always feel that each one of them has to be a ‘state-of-the-art’ statement: this is where we are at this moment in time with this particular topic, this particular area, this particular methodology. And yours, like Dirk’s, was a defining moment. Is that how you saw special issues, Mona?
Like Dirk, I cannot really remember how we came to put together the first special issue, but once we had that, it really set the standard in many ways, not just in terms of the state of the art, but also in terms of its openness, its geographical spread, and the fact that it’s not all about big names. This was very much part of the ethos of The Translator from the very beginning: that actually the most interesting work is always being done by early career scholars who still have considerable stamina and who have just completed really groundbreaking work. So that issue set the standard in a lot of ways. And once it came out, we could see it was so well-received that it made sense to think of other topics. For a while the focus remained on broad issues like, precisely, wordplay, or on sub-disciplines like dialogue interpreting. Then, probably around 2007, Martha Cheung, our late friend and colleague, wanted to do a special issue on Chinese discourses on translation. Around the same time, Richard Jacquemond and Samah Selim approached me about a special issue on translation in the Middle East and North Africa. That is when a geographical focus also came into the picture. It was always a principle for us that whatever topic you are dealing with, whether it is Bourdieu or minority or anything else, it is important to get people from different parts of the world contributing. These special issues were different, though, in that contributors could be located in different places but the focus was firmly on the Middle East, or China. So that was a different experience, but I think it worked out quite well, and I also believe it was quite innovative as an approach.
We went back and looked at the early issues and we were very impressed at the inclusion of many non-English language works, for instance among the book reviews, which included books in Portuguese, French, Spanish – something which does not often happen now. This must have involved a real effort. How did you find the right people? And how did you choose books for review? Now everything happens by email and we can reach everybody so quickly. How did you locate people and then convince them to write?
It was mainly through conferences, as happened with Moira. You go to an event and you think: this is a young, clever person, I think we could do with some input from them. So it happened mainly face to face, and although that had its limitations, because you couldn’t have the reach you have now, it was also much more enjoyable. I think that is what we are losing now: however much you want, as an editor, to have a direct interface with people, the systems that the publishers put in place block that: everything is automated, online, and so on. We already had email, of course. It wasn’t quite as widespread, but I do remember emailing people.
I want to say something about that, Mona. I remember at one point, you were telling me about this new thing called ‘email’ and you were saying: look, this is so easy, you can type your letters on your computer, communication is instant, and you can even send text files to your correspondents! I remember thinking: wow, that’s interesting, I must get hold of this. However, email wasn’t widely available in 1995. I know because I kept a file with all the correspondence that I had with the people who submitted abstracts, and there are traces of emails being sent – you were one of the early adopters, Mona – but it was relatively minor at that time. In my file, I found a lot of faxes. Most of the abstracts arrived by fax. I remember my pigeonhole brimming over with them on the day of the deadline. The articles themselves came through on disks and the first concern was always: can I open this disk and are there going to be conversion problems?
I received a lot of letters, too, and at one point, the phone rang here in my house: I picked it up and it was Douglas Hofstadter. So you have a Pulitzer Prize winner ringing you up at home and telling you: I have a paper that might be of interest to you, would you consider it? Eventually his piece ended up in the companion volume. I don’t know how he found out about the call, but he did. The reason I say this is to stress that we must not overemphasise or fetishise the impact of modern technology: truly international scholarship was possible before the internet. The letters in my file show that someone had heard about the special issue in the bulletin of the Colegio de Traductores Públicos de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires; somebody else had found out about it through the newsletter of the American Literary Translators Association. This means that the system was working. I looked at the abstracts: I received proposals from 17 different European countries, and also from Israel, Namibia, Uganda, the USA, Quebec, India, Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, Australia. That is international research through and through. An important tool was the loose leaflets with the call for papers which we could send out to contacts. And I remember those beautifully handwritten letters from you, Mona, on the blue letter headed paper of St. Jerome …
I just want to ask you about the names: where did the name St. Jerome and the title The Translator come from? And what was your thinking behind that?
The Translator was an obvious title for a journal that was less focused on abstract theories and more interested in human agents: I was clear about this as the main point of departure. St Jerome came later, when I was pushed into a corner where I either had to give up on the idea of the journal or do it myself. I decided to go ahead and I remember the first issue arriving, with this wonderful glossy black cover with gold and blue lettering. I just sat there and nearly cried – I just couldn’t stop looking at it – and then wondering: what do I do now? It is easy enough to start something, but how do you keep it going? And then realising that you can’t have all that effort put into databases and marketing … and publish just one wonderful journal. So then I thought we might as well establish a publisher, start publishing books, to justify all that effort. Calling it St. Jerome seemed a good option because he is the patron saint of translators and interpreters, again emphasising the focus on the human agents rather than the disembodied act.
We have been talking about the changes in technology but also the changes in the journal itself. The early issues had very interesting content: there are the articles, but there is so much more. Dirk mentioned the ‘Revisiting the Classics’ section and we have spoken about the reviews. There was also a ‘Course Profile’, and recent publications, a conference diary, … The journal was doing a lot: carrying out a lot of tasks, covering a lot of purposes that today we think of as separate.
They all had their own rationale. Perhaps I was naive, but I was trying to cover all aspects of the field: pedagogy, the profession and the academic discipline, and both translation and interpreting. A lot of effort went into attracting contributions on interpreting, because it was such a niche area at the time. With the course profile, the idea was to engage in more sophisticated approaches to pedagogy. After a while, though, it became clear that it was very difficult to get enough profiles that actually engaged with issues in a critical way. So we discontinued that section. And then, later on, we set up The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, which focused on that area. But ‘Revisiting the Classics’ was always there and remained an important part of the journal. It had both an academic and strategic rationale. It was there partly because of course we learn a lot from old material, especially material in languages that many people, like me, don’t speak. But it was also strategic, because in 1995, or in ’93–94 when thinking started on the project, I was really a relative newcomer, with no history. In Other Words had come out, but only a few years before, and it was seen as just a textbook, not a proper scholarly endeavour. The tendency, I think, would have been to see me as the new kid on the block, who thinks that they are going to dismiss everybody else and set their own agenda. And so ‘Revisiting the Classics’ was a way of saying, indirectly: we are not leaving anything behind, this is both old and new. So it was strategic in that respect, at the time. Plus, of course, how old a classic is changes all the time, as does the definition of a classic.
We were having this conversation, with Sue-Ann, about ‘Revisiting the Classics’ and, looking back from where we are now, what comes to mind is not so much the sort of strategic choice you described, but rather the fact that you were also saying, from a disciplinary point of view: look, translation studies itself is not the new kid on the block, it already has a tradition, it already has classics. So it may have been strategic for the journal or for you as general editor, but I think that looking at it now, there is also a sense in which that section was saying: we have roots, we have a history.
And we also tend to have a kind of obsession with innovation nowadays. More and more, research is being market-driven, pushing us all to innovate. Every single book is a new ‘key text’ and a ‘milestone’ or a ‘turning point’ in the field. And the whole metaphorics of the ‘turns’ in translation studies really means that you can think you can basically afford to leave existing research behind: previous publications are no longer relevant in the brave new world of your new paradigm. Revisiting the classics is a way of making sure that we remain connected to the past and take a critical approach to all the novelty claims we keep hearing around us.
One of the things I continued to do as review editor, following my predecessor Myriam Salama-Carr, was to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of translation studies, particularly in the ‘Revisiting the Classics’ section. I often asked colleagues to review ‘classics’ that were outside the discipline but had actually been central to the development of work within the field. I recall Cecilia Wadensjö wrote on Voloshinov and Ian Mason wrote on Hodge and Kress and, strictly speaking, neither of the works they discussed fell within translation studies. I also remember the difficulties I had finding the right people to do the reviews – and sometimes being a little bit frustrated because I felt that really good books didn’t get their due. So those were two key things for me: ‘classics’ not being only in translation studies, and also the challenge and the benefits of getting the right person to review a book.
This openness to other disciplines was there from the very beginning, I would say, and was also evident in other areas of the journal, including the special issues. Dirk started that process, by including the work of people who were outside the discipline of translation studies.
When ‘Revisiting the Classics’ was discontinued, that openness to interdisciplinary dialogue moved to the new ‘In Conversation’ feature. I remember our early discussions about that: the idea was to have an exchange between someone inside the field and someone who perhaps would not necessarily identify or be identified as a translation studies specialist, but whose work was in dialogue with the discipline.
We don’t do ‘Revisiting the Classics’ anymore, though listening to you, I am wondering whether we should bring it back. And, for this 25th anniversary issue, we have gone back to the first volume and selected a small number of the books that were reviewed in 1995, asking colleagues to review them again, taking into account both the original review and what has happened since then.
Which leads me back to the history of the journal. We have talked about its early days, about special issues and other features. If you think over the whole 25 years of The Translator, what would you say were the key moments of change, the pivotal moments when things took a different turn?
That is a difficult question to answer because most changes are really complex processes. A ‘turn’ is something that happens suddenly, but in reality, of course, most changes are slow in coming and are part of a wider history. It is hard for me to have a view on this because you need critical distance and I do not feel that I can position myself on that historiographical high ground from where I could spot, trace and interpret all the changes. In very broad terms, I think that the journal has responded well to the changes that have occurred in the field. The movement towards more empirical and cognitively inspired work has been picked up less by The Translator than by some of the other general translation journals, with the journal moving more towards a cultural studies orientation, in as much as that can be an accurate label. But again, all of these are broad processes. If you want to identify individual big moments, I suppose there is the boycott, which we have already mentioned, and then the move from St Jerome to Routledge, which was a big change.
I was going to say exactly the same thing, actually: that change doesn’t happen suddenly, usually, and it is not instigated by one person, but in conversation with an expanding research community. It happens partly because you try to instigate it: you try, for instance, to commission a special issue on a topic like Bourdieu, because you think people should be engaging more with sociology. But it also happens because people send contributions that you had not anticipated at all, and that gives you ideas for how to move things forward. So it is a very slow, very dynamic process. And a lot of people are involved. Most of them, you wouldn’t even know their names, because it is to do with conversations at conferences, papers you listen to, the odd contribution that somebody sends.
I would also agree that the two key moments were the boycott and then the sale to Routledge. With the boycott, of course, it was very disruptive, in many ways, but at the same time it eventually became very productive. It weakened the journal for a limited period of time and then it gave it new life, among other things by opening it up to topics like the special issue that Sue-Ann and Moira edited: I don’t know whether, in the early days, we would have even thought about a topic such as ‘Translating Violent Conflict’. Of course, it wasn’t just the boycott, it was things like the Iraq War, in 2003. There was so much going on in the world, the journal was really just part of that and reflecting that turmoil. There are lots of people who refused and still refuse to work with me, but at the same time, the boycott controversy brought in a whole new set of people I wasn’t even aware of, who felt strongly that they should support the journal. So you get this dynamic, and it is change that you can’t always control or predict: it goes in different directions. And that is the most stimulating part of it.
The general sense you get going through all the volumes is that there is a lot of continuity, regardless of shifts of any kind, and what seems to be, first of all, high quality work. Thinking about the ‘turns’ in translation studies, I feel that The Translator has always been open to all kinds of perspectives – philosophical, sociological, literary, whatever discipline they came out of. Most of the issues have that mixture and we were never interested in only publishing people who were writing through the cultural lens, through the post-colonial lens, or about literature only. I was also really impressed to see how early – I think the very first or second year – there were articles about interpreting. And they weren’t the standard ones. When I first came into the field, because of the research I was carrying out, I was looking closely at that kind of literature. There were exceptions, but so much of it was still focused on the more psycholinguistic, cognitive aspects of interpreting, rather than social, cultural aspects, certainly not political ones. I think the journal has held on to that variety and that consistency of standards, which remains one of its strengths. So you don’t think: well, that’s not an article for The Translator. Whereas there are other journals, and not necessarily only in translation studies, where you think: Oh, they are interested in this kind of approach, they represent the ‘turn’ of whatever it might be …
That is a question that we ask ourselves all the time, with Rita and Sue-Ann: what is an article for The Translator? And I am very conscious that it is a specialist journal in the sense that it is an academic journal in translation studies, but within that, it is a generalist journal – and there are a few of those. The field has developed so much that now we have a lot of publications that do very specific things: maybe they are devoted only to one particular area of the world, or to a particular sub-field, such as cognitive translation studies, or other specialist areas. The Translator has remained a journal whose remit is covering the variety of research across the field. So it maintains a specialist perspective in the sense that there has to be a clear translation element in what we publish but, at the same time, it is not the right place for something so specialised that only the people in that particular sub-field would ever read it. It is not always a very easy balance to maintain or a very easy line to hold.
I think that part of the problem is that whatever agenda you set for yourself, people look at who you are, what you publish as editors, and they will say: if I do something completely different, they are not going to be interested in this. With Target, for instance, in the early days, you knew that if you had a descriptive translation studies piece, it was much more likely to be accepted there. Whether Gideon Toury wanted it or not, he was associated with this. And I suppose if I were to set up a new journal now, people would think that work on narrative theory would stand a better chance with me. Whatever you do, people look at who is leading the journal and they make their own assumptions.
True, but then I think that the DNA of a journal should not be defined too narrowly by the identity of the editors. As an editor, you inevitably have your own research profile, but then it becomes important to keep an open mind. You should be able to consider the value and the interest that a piece may have for other people, even though it is not necessarily up your street. That is the challenge of being the editor of a more general or generalist kind of journal, like The Translator, and also Target, with which I have recently had some experience myself. And it is not always an easy position to be in because, as Loredana just noted, you have all the specialist journals now coming up, while the number of good-quality general journals has also increased. I have looked at the dates: after the pioneers Babel and Meta (both 1955), Target was created in 1989, The Translator in 1995, two years after Perspectives (1993, also initially from a small independent press before moving to Routledge, which presents an interesting analogy with the story of St. Jerome), and followed by Translation Studies in 2008. And there are others, so competition is quite stiff. Another challenge is that, with a journal of this type, you always have to make sure that the material remains readable. That is something that I learned from you, Mona, working on the special issue and on other submissions: that double focus on scholarly rigour, quality and intellectual merit, per se, but also and no less importantly on readability, because you work not just for the experts in that particular area or field. You also want the ideas and the analysis to get across to the more general reader to enable a wider dialogue. That is a very special challenge that is specific to a ‘generalist’ journal – and I think The Translator has been good at maintaining that balance.
It strikes me that the personal dimension is really important. You started off with that Mona, just talking about meeting people in person at conferences and about word-of-mouth. So, thinking about the future of the journal, as it becomes a bit less personal, with its technological interface, its four issues per year, and so on, what are your thoughts, about online activities and the field? I am thinking about online conferences in the future, for instance. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I think it is not just the technology that has changed and become much more impersonal. It is also the fact that people – the editors and the reviewers – are under so much more pressure now. We had it really good ‘in the old days’, in this sense. There were very, very busy times. It was a unique kind of editing, almost non-stop. But at the same time, there wasn’t that pressure from the university for your time to be completely filled up by administrative and teaching duties and a research agenda that is all about the number of articles you published. In recent years, everything other than publishing research articles in refereed journals has become a waste of time. You edit a journal now and it hardly gets taken into consideration. You edit something like an encyclopedia, and it doesn’t count towards your research assessment. And so the pressure that the editors and the reviewers are themselves under means that the space for personal interaction has really shrunk.
And the space for new initiatives, as well. You were able to start a new journal and get people to pay for it in a way that no one could do now, nor could they justify the time for something like that …
Yes, and who would publish now in a journal that couldn’t have the latest articles online, that is not recorded or registered with ORCID and the million other pieces of technology that can connect everything together? Who is going to publish with a journal that hasn’t got a way of working out impact factors and the latest number of viewings? I think it is really unfortunate: it has turned everything into metrics, and put more, unnecessary pressure on the editors.
And yet you learn an awful lot from editing: it is one way of staying on top of the discipline. Going back to technology, we need to remember that technology isn’t separate from politics: it is very much a matter of politics and of policy. New journals are increasingly going to be open access only and the existing journals are gradually going in that direction too. That is also an agenda that is set by the research councils. What worries me is that if that model involves costs for authors, this undermines The Translator’s ethos of openness to different parts of the world: who in Iran or in some parts of Asia is going to have funding to publish open access? The risk is moving into the position we thought we were departing from, with the overwhelming presence of people from particular parts of the world sending information to be digested by others who can’t contribute to the conversation.
This can create an imbalance in the field in more than one way. The wealthy become wealthier, because you have the funding, you can get your papers published more easily, you will make sure that they get quoted, which is good for your metrics and gives you access to further funding, and so on. Also, we increasingly see a lot of opportunism in how papers are planned, written and submitted – and this is not a moral judgement, in any way, because younger scholars, in particular, are forced to play the game. But as editors we can see the effect of this, for instance, in the ‘salami slicing’, the parallel or near-parallel submissions of papers and special issue proposals. And when everybody feels they have to do what is trending, we risk an overall impoverishment of research, with the system reducing the real academic freedom of individual researchers, their ability to take risks.
Here is a big blue-sky question for you, then: what hopes do you have for a journal like The Translator for the next 25 years?
I would say the change is so fast at the moment, so aggressive, that I don’t really know. Of course, there is a whole new generation of people who are being socialised into seeing the world in a new way, accepting that this is the normal way to be. Why would I want to talk to an editor, when I can just press a button and submit something? And if I am clever, I can play the game. But that is a very pessimistic view: there is always room for resistance. Still, the combination of the pressure by publishers to produce more issues per year and the pressure from academia to spend most of your time doing other things does not help. And I’m not even mentioning the uncertainty that most academics live with now, the casualisation of academia, the short term contracts, so that really all your time is spent looking for another job before you finish this one.
You are absolutely right, and there are implications for the quality of the research that we do: because of the pressure to publish, publish, publish, and to seek funding so we can publish even more, we haven’t got enough time to read and think.
I wonder sometimes if we are in a situation where perhaps more is less. I can’t keep up with all the interesting work going on in the field. I think our younger colleagues are in the same position. Earlier I was describing my own entry into the discipline: I was able to get a handle on a lot of different positions coming out of the field, the range of disciplinary approaches, and the philosophical underpinnings of many of the core ideas – not a small body of knowledge, of course, because translation studies has always been an interdisciplinary field and is by nature also international. I worry about how to help students interested in the discipline today to gain a perspective on that complexity. But I don’t think the solution is to make sure that every translation theory course covers the entire history of the discipline either, because the field continues to evolve and students and younger scholars bring new questions and concerns to it.
There are lots of innovative things happening: maybe even the printed word as the main mode of delivery for scholarship is going to change. I would love to have access to an online forum where I could more easily display objects, images and sounds alongside or without any words accompanying them. I think that is something that is probably going to happen in the next 25 years – and that we can look forward to.