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Experiencing people

One implication of this for the training or professional growth of a translator is that,

beginning ideally in childhood and continuing throughout life, a translator should

be interested in people, all kinds of people — and should take every opportunity to

learn about how different people act.

Friends, colleagues, relatives — that goes without saying. But also shopkeepers,

salespersons, electricians and plumbers, the mail carrier, servers in restaurants,

bank tellers — all the people with whom we come in contact in our everyday lives.

Perfect strangers with whom we have encounters: accidental collisions, gurgling at

a baby, scratching a dog's ears, between floors in an elevator. Perfect strangers whom

we never actually encounter, whom we overhear on a bus or watch walk across a

street. We watch them; we observe them closely. We turn their words over in our

ears and our mouths. We wonder what it feels like to be that person.

And what do we notice? What do we pay attention to? Mannerisms, nervous

habits, posture and gestures, facial expressions, a style of walking and talking. Word

Yeah, aren't we a horrid lot? Friends and family think we

want to chat about something, like modern warehouse

logistics or actuators for gaseous media, they strike up

a lively conversation about the subject, and all this only

to find out that we were just after the _word__ for it:)

Sometimes I happen to listen in on conversations, like

in the subway, and when someone uses a word I've been

searching for ages, I almost want to shake their hands.

But of course, I don't.

pro verbially

Werner Richter

choice: certain words and phrases will always provoke a vivid memory of a certain

person using them in a certain situation. We will remember minute details about

the situation: how hot it was that day, what so-and-so was wearing, how someone

laughed, a vague feeling of unease . . . With other words and phrases we will work

very hard to overcome their association with a certain person or a certain situation

— as when a word provoked titters in you as a child but needs to be used seriously

when you are an adult; or when a word had one set of associations for you back

home, in your regional dialect, but is used very differently in the metropolis where

you now live.

The more situational and personal associations you have with a word or a phrase,

the more complexly and flexibly you will be able to use it yourself— and the less it

will seem to you the sole "property" of a single person or group. This complexity

and flexibility of use is a goal to strive for; the more complexly and flexibly you use

language, the better a translator you will be. But striving for that goal does not mean

ignoring the situational and personal associations of words and phrases. It means

internalizing so many of them that they fade into your subconscious or subliminal

knowing. The goal is to "store" as many vivid memories of people saying and writing

things as you can, but to store them in linguistic habits where you do not need to

be conscious of every memory — where those memories are "present," and work for

you powerfully and effectively, but do so subliminally, beneath your conscious


How is this done? We might think of this "storage" process in terms of Peirce's

three types of reasoning: abduction, induction, and deduction. Abduction would

cover the impact of first impressions; induction our ongoing process of building up

patterns in the wealth of experience we face every day; and deduction the study of

human psychology.