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Francis R. Jones (Newcastle University)

What Poetry Translators Work At: Findings from Think-Alouds

Real-time "think-aloud" recordings were made of four expert poetry translators, who translated the same modern free-verse poem from Dutch into English over three drafts whilst giving a running commentary on their thoughts and actions. Tape transcripts were divided into 4-5 second segments so that findings could be quantified. How translators managed their task was analysed at various levels, ranging from overall priorities in each draft down to "strategy elements" such as "check the dictionary" (Lorscher 1996). A key level of analysis was the "microsequence", which resembles Lorscher's "strategy". Here I report on the linguistic, poetic and procedural issues (e.g. Lexis, Rhythm, and Informant respectively) which these microsequences tackle: in other words, what poetry translators actually work at whilst translating. Key questions I answer are: What issues take up most translating time, and what issues are less time-consuming? How far are these priorities specific to poetry? In other words, is poetry translating "an art of its own" or "just another translation specialism"? Do translators' priorities change from draft to draft? Do individual translators have very different or broadly similar priorities? In other words, how far are they "individual oddballs" and how far are they guided by shared professional norms and cognitive constraints?

Francis Jones teaches translation studies at the School of Modern Languages, Newcastle University. His main research area is poetry translation: he is particularly interested in professional strategies, practices and networks, and in ideologies of representation. He translates poetry, mainly from Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and Dutch into English, but has also worked from Hungarian, Russian, Papiamento and Sranan, and into Yorkshire and Geordie. Besides 14 translated volumes of poetry, he has published many articles on translation studies, and a poetry-translation-studies travelogue through ex- and post-Yugoslavia - Prevoditeljev Put (Translator's Journey, Sarajevo, 2004). He is now working on a book-length set of research studies: Poetry Translation as Professional Action.