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Internal and external knowledge

Translation is different things for different groups of people. For people who are

not translators, it is primarily a text; for people who are, it is primarily an activity.

Or, as Anthony Pym (1993: 131, 149-50) puts it, translation is a text from the

perspective of "external knowledge," but an activity (aiming at the production of a

text) from the perspective of "internal knowledge."


A translator thinks and talks about

translation from inside the process,

knowing how it's done, possessing

a practical real-world sense of the

problems involved, some solutions to

those problems, and the limitations on

those solutions (the translator knows,

for example, that no translation will

ever be a perfectly reliable guide to

the original).


A non-translator (especially a monolingual

reader in the target language

who directly or indirectly pays for the

translation - a client, a book-buyer)

thinks and talks about translation from

outside the process, not knowing how

it's done but knowing, as Samuel

Johnson once said of the noncarpenter,

a well-made cabinet when

s/he sees one.

From the translator's internal perspective, the activity is most important: the process

of becoming a translator, receiving and handling requests to do specific translations,

doing research, networking, translating words, phrases, and registers, editing the

translation, delivering the finished text to the employer or client, billing the client

for work completed, getting paid. The text is an important part of that process, of

course — even, perhaps, the most important part — but it is never the whole thing.

From the non-translator's external perspective, the text as product or commodity

is most important. And while this book is primarily concerned with (and certainly

written from and for) the translator's internal knowledge, and thus with the activity

of translating — it is, after all, a textbook for student translators — it will be useful

to project an external perspective briefly here in Chapter 1, if only to distinguish it

clearly from the more translator-oriented approach of the rest of the book. A great

deal of thinking and teaching about translation in the past has been controlled by

what is essentially external knowledge, text-oriented approaches that one might

have thought of greater interest to non-translators than translators — so much, in

fact, that these external perspectives have in many ways come to dominate the field.

Ironically enough, traditional approaches to translation based on the nontranslating

user's need for a certain kind of text have only tended to focus on one

of the user's needs: reliability (often called "equivalence" or "fidelity"). A fully useroriented

approach to translation would recognize that timeliness and cost are equally

important factors. Let us consider these three aspects of translation as perceived

from the outside — translation users' desire to have a text translated reliably, rapidly,

and cheaply — in turn.