Middling-Status Profession, High-Status Work: Finnish Translators' Status Perceptions in the Light of Their Backgrounds, Working Conditions and Job Satisfaction

By Ruokonen, Minna; Malusalo, Jukka | Translation & Interpreting, January 2018 | Go to article overview

Middling-Status Profession, High-Status Work: Finnish Translators' Status Perceptions in the Light of Their Backgrounds, Working Conditions and Job Satisfaction


Ruokonen, Minna, Malusalo, Jukka, Translation & Interpreting


1. Introduction

At a first glance, status perceptions may appear of little consequence to translation practice: studying how translators perceive the value, respect or prestige accorded to their profession hardly leads to direct improvements in the working environment. Nevertheless, perceptions matter. Feeling undervalued at work can make employees less motivated and more likely to change jobs (American Psychological Association, 2012). Status perceptions and the factors linked to them are thus relevant to translators' professional wellbeing and to translation practice.

The present article was inspired by a paradox: while the translator's profession apparently enjoys only a middling status (see Section 2 for details), translators themselves appear to be quite satisfied with their job (see overview in Dam & Zethsen, 2016). We believe that this paradox stems from the multiple meanings of "status", more specifically the perceived prestige and value of the profession in general as opposed to that of an individual translator's own work.

We aim to explore translators' perceptions of these two meanings of status in order to discover if any differences emerge, particularly due to variation in the respondents' backgrounds, working conditions and job satisfaction. Our data come from a survey conducted among Finnish translators in 2014 with 450 respondents, partly replicating Helle V. Dam and Karen Korning Zethsen's status surveys among Danish translators (see Section 2 below).

In what follows, Section 2 clarifies the various meanings of status and presents a review of previous research. Section 3 then describes the Finnish respondents' context, and Section 4 moves on to the design of the survey and the variables analyzed. The results of the statistical analysis are reported in Section 5, followed by a discussion and conclusions in Section 6.

2. Previous research

Within Translation Studies, empirical research into translator status has only been conducted for less than a decade (see overview in Ruokonen, 2013), but includes major projects such as Helle V. Dam and Karen Korning Zethsen's surveys of 307 Danish translators (2008, 2011, 2012) and David Katan's (2009) international survey of 890 translation/interpreting (T/I) professionals, teachers and students. Furthermore, as pointed out by Ruokonen (2013), implications for status can be found in studies on translators' role, identity or habitus, notably Rakefet Sela-Sheffy and Miriam Shlesinger's research on the identity of Israeli translators and interpreters, with data comprising over 200 media texts (e.g. Sela-Sheffy, 2008, 2010) and 95 interviews (e.g. Sela-Sheffy, 2016). Recently, research into translator status has also been covered in a special issue of the Journal of Specialised Translation (e.g. Dam & Zethsen, 2016; Ruokonen, 2016; Sela-Sheffy, 2016) and at a panel at the 2016 Congress of the European Society for Translation Studies (Ruokonen, Svahn & Salmi, 2016).

Status has thus become a major topic within sociologically oriented translation research, but the concept itself remains ambiguous. Previous research distinguishes at least the following meanings:

* The status of a profession: fulfilling the criteria of a specialized and protected occupation that is highly valued by society (Volti, 2008, p. 97-102). Translation is often considered a semi-profession that fails to meet all such criteria (e.g. Sela-Sheffy, 2006, 2016);

* Socio-economic status of an occupation: calculated on the basis of income level and education; can be used to predict occupational prestige (Treiman, 2001, p. 300-301; Ganzeboom & Treiman, 2003);

* Occupational prestige: subjective perceptions of value and respect attached to an occupation, typically studied within sociology by means of rankings gathered from among the general population (e.g. Volti, 2008, p. 171-173; Treiman, 2001, p. 299-300; Gentile, 2013, p. …

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