Human Organization Research: Field Relations and Techniques

By Richard N. Adams; Jack J. Preiss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXII
PROBLEMS OF TRANSLATION AND MEANING IN FIELD WORK*

Herbert P. Phillips


THE NEED FOR ACCURATE TRANSLATION

This paper is concerned with a problem inherent in almost all anthropological research: translating the informants' language into one's own. We will focus on translation as a practical problem in field method rather than on the theory of translation.

At the outset, three points must be emphasized. First, many of the issues discussed here were encountered while the author was conducting a culture-personality study in a Thai (Siamese) village.1 Because this particular type of research depended almost entirely on verbal instruments and reports, language became the lifeblood of the project and it was essential to devote a great deal of time and attention to the translation process. One can imagine research projects -- a study of material culture, for example -- in which such careful attention to word meanings might not be necessary. At the same time, however, the kinds of problems described here are present in principle in all research in which the language of the people under study is different from one's own or that of the write-up. The basic issue is to recognize that there are translation problems, sometimes brutal ones, and then decide how much time and effort will be devoted toward solving them.

Second, accuracy of translation depends upon a number of factors, some of which may be beyond the field worker's control: the amount of time he has in the field and the size of his budget; the need, availability,

____________________
*
An original contribution, prepared for this volume; also published in Human Organization, Vol. 18, No. 4 ( 1959-60), pp. 184-92.
1
The research was conducted during 1956-58 and involved the use of TAT's, Sentence Completion Tests, life-histories, and observational materials. The author wishes to offer grateful acknowledgement to the Ford Foundation for financial support and to Professors Allan R. Holmberg, R. B. Jones, Leo Meltzer, Morris Edward Opler, John M. Roberts, Lauriston Sharp, Donald Sola, and Mr. J. Marvin Brown for their valuable comments. However, the conclusions, opinions, and other statements made here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the foundation or these individuals.

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