Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Investigating Tolerance of Ambiguity in Novice and Expert Translators and Interpreters: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Investigating Tolerance of Ambiguity in Novice and Expert Translators and Interpreters: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

Abstract: In recent years socio-psychological language research has influenced the fields of translation and interpreting studies resulting in a growing interest in personality traits such as extraversion, emotional stability, self-efficacy and risk-taking as relevant constructs of translator competence and interpreter aptitude (Hubscher-Davidson, 2009; Bolanos Medina, 2014). A personality trait that has received limited attention, especially in relation to interpreting, is tolerance of ambiguity (TA). TA is generally described as the ability to manage situations that are new, complex or insoluble (Budner, 1962). As these types of situations seem to be inherent to the translation and interpreting practice, the construct has interesting potential. This study aims to shed some light on the level of TA in novice and expert translators and interpreters. To this end, we have administered the Tolerance for Ambiguity Scale (Herman, Stevens, Bird, Mendenhall & Oddou, 2010) to two groups of student interpreters (n=20) and translators (n=20) and two professional populations of interpreters (n=20) and translators (n=14). The results indicate a significant difference between interpreters and translators at the professional level regardless of age. This seems to suggest that the nature of the interpreter's job aids the development of tolerance of ambiguity.

Keywords: tolerance of ambiguity, translator, interpreter

1. Introduction

In recent years translation and interpreting studies have witnessed a growing interest in personality traits such as extraversion, emotional stability, self-efficacy and risk-taking as relevant constructs of translator competence and interpreter aptitude (e.g. Hubscher-Davidson, 2009, 2013; Bontempo, 2012; Bolanos Medina, 2014). This pursuit seems to be inspired by research in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), where learner attributes such as these have been researched since the 1970s. In this paper we will focus on one such personality variable: tolerance of ambiguity (TA).

The term tolerance of ambiguity originates from general psychology, where it was coined by Frenkel-Brunswick (1949, cited in Furnham & Marks, 2013) as an individual difference variable. Over the years, the concept has received considerable attention within the fields of general psychology, clinical psychology, organisational psychology but also social psychology and second language research. TA is generally defined as the ability to manage situations that are new, complex and contain problems without a clear solution (Budner, 1962). These three characteristics can also be attributed to the act of learning a foreign language, as the language is new, complex, and often without clear solutions for language problems (Dornyei, 2005). As L2 learning and ambiguity seem to go hand in hand, it comes as no surprise that TA is considered a beneficial trait for the language learner and has therefore received considerable attention in the second language acquisition field (Ely, 1995; Ehrman, 1993). The construct has been related to a number of language competences including speaking skills, writing skills, reading comprehension and general language proficiency (Chapelle & Robert, 1986; El-Koumy, 2000; Kondo-Brown, 2006). These studies conclude that TA is a predictor of foreign language learning success.

The relevance of this personality trait for language users has not gone unnoticed in the world of translation. Consequently, translation scholars have become increasingly interested in the way this trait is connected to translator competence (e.g. Tirkkonen-Condit, 2000; Bolanos Medina, 2015). The three types of ambiguous situations--novelty, complexity and insolubility--seem to be inherent to translation practice. Novelty occurs when a translator encounters new terminology in a text, for example, which is often the case in highly specialized texts. The translator is also often confronted with complex translation assignments, caused by a high degree of unfamiliar terminology or by the technical nature of the text. …

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