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Psychology (deduction)

If deduction is the application of general principles to the solution of a problem,

then the primary deductive approach to the problem of how people act is

psychology. By this reasoning, the next step beyond paying close attention to people

for the student translator would be to take classes in psychology.

But this may be unsatisfactory for a number of reasons.

The first and most obvious is that the psychology of translation is still undeveloped

as a scholarly discipline, so that you are unlikely to find courses in it at your

university, and the psychology courses you do find offered may be utterly irrelevant

for a translator's needs.

Then again, what are a translator's needs? We just saw in discussing inductive

approaches to people that it is impossible to predict exactly what kind of peopleoriented

knowledge will be useful in any given translation job; the same goes for

deductive approaches as well. It is quite possible that extensive (or even cursory)

study of psychology might provide insights into people that will help the translator

translate better.

For example, the second reason why classes in psychology might be unsatisfactory

to the student of translation is that psychology as a discipline is typically concerned

with pathology, i.e., problems, sicknesses, neuroses and psychoses, personality

disorders — and the people translators deal with in a professional capacity tend to

be fairly ordinary, normal folks. But this can then be turned around into a positive

suggestion: if there are courses offered at your university in the psychology of

normal people, they might very well prove useful, especially if they deal with workrelated


Psychology courses of potential benefit to translators

Industrial psychology

The psychology of advertising

The psychology of learning

The psychology of problem-solving

Human memory and cognition

The psychology of language

Group dynamics

Intergroup behavior

Decision-making and perceived control

The social psychology of organizations

Social identity, social conflict, and information processing

Networking and social coordination

Team development

Psychology applied to business

Psychology and law

Interpersonal influence and communication

Cross-cultural training

Social-psychological approaches to international conflict

In addition, it should be remembered that psychology, psychoanalysis,

psychotherapy, and psychiatry are professional fields that generate texts for

translation. Translators are asked to translate psychiatric evaluations and medical

records, social workers' reports, and various scholarly writings in the field (conference

papers, journal articles, scholarly books); court interpreters are asked to

interpret testimony from expert witnesses in psychiatry and psychology; conference

interpreters at scholarly meetings in the field must obviously be well versed in how

psychologists and psychiatrists think, how they see their world.

In studying psychology, in other words, one should not forget that the relevant

"people" in the field are not merely the subjects of psychologists' theories and

experiments. They are also the psychologists themselves. If a translator is ever asked

to translate a psychological text, a class in psychology at university will provide an

excellent background — not only because the translator will have some familiarity

with the terms and concepts, but because s/he will have grown familiar with one

real-life psychologist, the professor in the course.

Finally, there is no reason why translators should not gradually become amateur

psychologists in their own right. In fact, a few weeks of reading postings on an

e-mail discussion group like Lantra-L, for example, will convince the would-be

translator that most of the translators writing in are amateur psychologists — people

who have developed theories of human behavior which they will elaborate for you

at great length. These theories grew out of inductive experience, which is the very

best source for theories; but they have since become formulated in broad, general

terms, as deductive principles, ready to explain any personal quirk or trait that

comes along. The only real danger in these theories is the same danger that inheres

in all deductive or theoretical thinking: that the general principles become so rigid

that they no longer change in response to experience; that they become straitjackets

for experience. Hence the importance of continued abductive and inductive

openness to novelty, to experiences that the "theories" can't explain. Without such

wrenches in the deductive works, the translator stops growing.