Roundtable discussion

Convenors: Haidee Kotze and Sandra L. Halverson

Theorization for empirical translation research: big questions and central concepts

It has been claimed that contemporary Translation Studies (TS) is characterised by (and also consciously foregrounds) a range of important methodological innovations and developments, but that theory development and epistemological analysis have been neither as fruitful nor as prominent in the research landscape. This claim has been made with reference to descriptive translation studies (Pym 2010: 86), corpus-based translation studies (CBTS) (De Sutter and Lefer 2019) and cognitive translation studies (CTS) (Marín 2017; Xiao & Muñoz 2020). If we take this description as a starting point, the situation may be understood as a more or less natural case of methodological development simply outpacing theoretical development, causing a temporary lag that will resolve itself in due course. Alternatively,  this situation might be considered a less benign development, in which the pursuit of methodological sophistication has actually displaced fundamental conceptual and theoretical reflection, which would have more far-reaching consequences for both current and future work. One objective of this roundtable is to clarify which of these understandings is a fairer account.

Given that these concerns appear to be surfacing across various areas of empirical translation studies, a further, and rather urgent, matter of business is to take stock of the theoretical status quo and to clearly identify and characterize real lacuna and points of alignment or disalignment. This is one of the objectives of the newly formed INTERACT research network (‘scIeNTific nEtwoRk lAnguage ConTact’). The leaders of an INTERACT working group on translation theory development will convene a roundtable discussion, involving invited participants representing a selection of widely used theoretical approaches within empirical translation studies. The selected frameworks all share an underlying commitment to understanding translation as a form of linguistic or semiotic activity that is fundamentally sociocognitive in nature.

The participants in the roundtable will each be asked to explore the following questions:

  1. What are the big questions that an empirically viable theory of translation must address?
  2. How does the theoretical perspective that you favor enable responses to these questions?
  3. Following on question 2: What are the most important theoretical concepts that your perspective provides to TS?
  4. Following on question 3: How might these theoretical constructs be operationalized for empirical studies, and what kinds of methodological tools or approaches would you use?

The convenors have invited five speakers representing the following commonly used theoretical frameworks in which the nexus of language, cognition and society is a central concern:

  • Systemic Functional Linguistics (Professor Stella Neumann, RWTH Aachen University)
  • usage-based linguistic theory (e.g., construction grammar, cognitive grammar) (Professor Oliver Czulo, Leipzig University)
  • variationist sociolinguistics (Professor Gert De Sutter, Ghent University)
  • psycholinguistic approaches (Professor Bogusława Whyatt, Adam Mickiewicz University)
  • sociocognitive approaches to translational action  (Professor Hanna Risku, University of Vienna)

Each of these broad frameworks engages the question of how language-ing is shaped by cognitive and social factors (identified as a key challenge for contemporary theorizations in empirical translation studies by Halverson and Kotze 2021), though they do so with different emphases. Each of these frameworks has fostered both theoretical reflection and empirical work within TS. All of them tap into expansive research networks external to TS, i.e., within linguistics or cognitive science, and the extent to which or ways in which the individual frameworks have been either adapted or further elaborated for the purposes and needs of TS vary widely. The relationship of the broader framework to theory development within TS will become visible through the responses to the four starting questions.

Each of the speakers will present their responses to the four initial questions and will also respond to questions from the audience after their talk. At the end of the five talks, the convenors will moderate a general discussion with participation from the audience. The aim of this open discussion is to collectively explore alignments and disalignments across theoretical frameworks. This exploration will aid in illuminating remaining epistemological and theoretical lacuna and focusing continued theory-building efforts.


De Sutter, Gert & Marie-Aude Lefer. 2019. On the need for a new research agenda for corpus-based translation studies: A multi-methodological, multifactorial and interdisciplinary approach. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 28(1): 1-23.

Halverson, Sandra L. & Haidee Kotze. 2021.  Sociocognitive constructs in Translation and Interpreting Studies (TIS): Do we really need concepts like norms and risk when we have a comprehensive usage-based theory of language? In Sandra L. Halverson & Álvaro Marín García, eds. Contesting Epistemologies in Translation and Interpreting Studies. London: Routledge. pp. 51-79.

Marín García, Álvaro. 2017. Theoretical hedging: The scope of knowledge in translation process research [Unpublished PhD dissertation]. Kent State University.

Pym, Anthony. 2010. Exploring Translation Theories. London: Routledge.

Xiao, Kairong & Ricardo Muñoz Martín. 2020. Cognitive Translation Studies: Models and methods at the cutting edge. Linguistica Antverpiensia, New Series: Themes in Translation Studies, 19: 1-24.