European Society for Translation Studies

Translation research: LAP versus/with ESP?

Translation research: LAP versus/with ESP?

A response to Maria Filippakopoulou

Daniel Gile

October 22, 2005

In her essay, Maria Filippakopoulou (MF) criticizes “scientific” discourse, “long and sufficiently debated”.

     Firstly, regarding the reasons why most of the texts in this web page refer to “scientific discourse”:

  1. Contributors simply happen to be interested in scientific discourse. There is nothing to prevent colleagues interested in other types of discourse from sending contributions as well.
  2. Many TS scholars (including some who are interested in literary translation) happen to conduct studies within the Empirical Science Paradigm (ESP). Since there are recurring problems in these studies (see for example the last paper in Hansen et al. 2004), it is perhaps legitimate to consider that the topic has not been sufficiently debated and that further clarification might be helpful.

     MF raises an ethical objection to science. This traditional criticism usually refers to the fact that scientists are trained to be objective, not to play an ethical role in society. MF also claims that the scientific approach “does not train researchers to go beyond the immediate content of “data” to the conditions under which such data emerged and became worthy of observation in the first place”, and that it “distances researchers from the social make of their object of study, pre-emptying any desire to link it back to the society and culture from which it was “derived””. This is a somewhat puzzling statement: why could scientific methods not be applied precisely to study the social make up of their object of study, as in sociology, ethnology, political science, etc.?

     According to MF, scientific discourse generated a division between literary and non-literary translation. I challenge this claim; when I was a technical translator in the early 1970s, a strong distinction between the two was already traditional in circles of professional translators who had no interest in research.

     Finally, according to FM, scientific discourse “doesn’t begin to tell us anything about how hypotheses are formulated in the first place”. It does not, unless scientific methods are used to try to investigate precisely this question. One might ask whether non-scientific discourse does tell us something about how hypotheses are formulated.

     The scientific paradigm is not exclusively quantitative. It accommodates qualitative methods as well. However, it is essentially critical, precisely because it recognizes the possibility of personal and sociological biases in scholarly analysis of reality. Perhaps M. Filippakopoulou will understand why both logic and evidence would lead scientifically trained colleagues to question her statement that someone’s popularity in a discipline proves “the validity of his insights”.

     On this website page, so far, most of the contributions have focused on one paradigm, but they have not excluded the other(s). The Liberal Arts Paradigm has advantages which the ESP does not have. I would argue for complementarity and would welcome further contributions from both sides.


Hansen, Gyde, Kirsten Malkmjær and Daniel Gile (eds). 2004. Claims, Changes and Challenges in Translation Studies.  Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.