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Accessible Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 13, 2016

Does personality matter in translation? interdisciplinary research into the translation process and product

Olha Lehka-Paul and Bogusława Whyatt


The paper reports on the first pilot study planned within a broader interdisciplinary research project on translator’s personality profile viewed from the psychological and cognitive perspectives. The study aims to test the assumption that there is a link between personality features and translation performance. It is our initial attempt to incorporate translation process research and product evaluation into the investigation of personality factors involved in translation. Two major directions of analysis have been selected: personality traits as related to the quality of the translation product, and cognitive functions as related to the process of translation. The tentative conclusions confirm the idea that personality characteristics are important building blocks for further development of translation competence and expertise.

1 Introduction

Though a comparatively young discipline, Translation Studies (TS) has already managed to win the status of an interdisciplinary field that shelters a number of “disciplinary immigrants” (cf. Gile 2008[1]), struggling to solve the riddles of translation as a process and as a product. Both approaches, process-oriented and product-oriented, share one common “feature” – the agent of translation – a human being capable of linguistic, cultural and in terpersonal mediation, a professional whose competences should embrace the whole complexity of tasks.

Following Holmes (1988) and his map of TS, Chesterman (2009) suggests adding a new branch called “Translator Studies”. Such a proposal testifies to the existing gap in TS research into the area of translators’ personality. A number of scholars − Snell-Hornby (1988), O’Brien (2013), Jääskeläinen (2012), Tirkkonen-Condit (1986), Tymoczko (2003, 2005), Whyatt (2012), to name but a few − have oftentimes referred to this lacking field, but little has been done so far. This paper contributes to this area.

2 Personality traits and functions as related to occupational psychology

The rise of interest in personality research in psychology could be credited to two factors: extensive studies of psychological disorders starting from the end of the nineteenth century (Freud 1891/1953; Jung 1971) and the need for a rapid selection of troops during World War I. The relationship between personality and occupation crystallized in the post-war period with the restoration of the old and creation of new workplaces, especially for women who were then entering the job market. Various aspects of personality started to be studied to predict behavioural patterns in certain industrial settings, to efficiently select personnel, boost motivation and increase productivity (Landy 1997). The approach resulted in the rising popularity of occupational psychology, and the awareness of personality being one of the factors related to overall job performance. Bearing the last premise in mind, this paper aims to find the relationship between relevant personality factors and translation as a type of occupation. A translator’s personality is discussed through the prism of the trait approach and Jung’s theory of psychological types (Jung 1971).

2.1 Overview of the trait approach in personality psychology

Psychologists consider traits to be stable internal characteristics that people display over time and across situations (Pervin et al. 2005, quoted after Bernstein et al. 2008: 426). Owing to their relative stability, traits are believed to be capable of predicting people’s behaviour in various settings and over longer periods of time. The origin of the trait approach lies in psycholexical studies, which led to the formulation of the lexical hypothesis in psychology. According to this hypothesis, personality traits being important human characteristics should be displayed in language in the form of a single word. Psycholexical studies have consisted in looking for and collecting personality-related words from a dictionary. English and later German were the first languages that underwent this type of research in the early twentieth century (Caprara et al. 2000). However, it was Allport (1969) who later systematized the results of psycholexical studies in English by grouping lexical items according to the description of the most recurring personality characteristics. Cattell et al. (1977), Eysenck et al. (1964), McCrae and Costa (1989) went on and applied factor analysis to rationalize the findings and came up with five major dimensions of personality traits known as the “Big Five”. The now widely used psychometric tools based on psycholexical studies are Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors Test, Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and the NEO Personality Inventory. The Big Five traits evolved in the studies of Ashton and Lee (2009) to cover six personality dimensions, and a new psychometric measure known as the HEXACO Personality Inventory has recently been designed and cross-culturally tested.

As to the implementation of trait-measuring tools, it is essential to explain how the trait approach is operationalized. One of its major assumptions holds that people differ in the degree of inclination towards a certain trait, which means that all of us are likely to possess different quantitative characteristics of each shared trait. The proponents of this approach focus on measuring the strength of certain personality characteristics as opposed to others, and then make predictions as to the possible ways of thinking and behaving.

Within the framework of this study the HEXACO Personality Inventory was applied. It consists in measuring such personality factors as Honesty-Humility (H), Emotionality (E), Extraversion (X), Agreeableness (A), Conscientiousness (C) and Openness to Experience (O), each of them comprising four facets or sub-scales (e.g., Organization, Diligence, Perfectionism and Prudence are the facets of the Conscientiousness factor). The tool is a 60 (short version) or 100 (full version) statements inventory which presents various situations and requires answers from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” on a 5-point Likert scale. A researcher receives the results for each facet and factor with the help of the scoring keys, and is then able to decide which traits are central or dominant and which of them are secondary. It is believed that people’s central traits are capable of controlling behaviour most of the time, whereas secondary traits make themselves explicit only in certain situations.

2.2 Overview of the role of psychological functions in personality psychology

A different approach to describing personality considers psychological functions to be decisive in predicting people’s behaviour. It was Carl Jung (1971) who first argued that each person gradually develops a tendency to rely on certain mental functions. Together with a degree of preference for Introversion or Extraversion, these functions create personalities that display predictable behavioural patterns. Jung distinguished two major dichotomous functions: Sensing vs. Intuitive and Thinking vs. Feeling, and believed that each person develops an inclination to using a certain combination of these functions. Such personality characteristics are qualitative and form personality types, which is why Jung’s theory is referred to as personality typology and is often opposed to the trait approach discussed in Section 2.1.

Jung’s theory was slightly modified and then put to use in the form of a psychometric measure by two American female psychologists, Briggs and Briggs Myers (1st edition in 1962). They distinguished another dichotomous dimension, Perceiving and Judging,[2] to explain the preferred way of taking in information and making decisions. The four dichotomies[3] served to develop the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a tool widely applied in career counselling around the globe (Martin 1997).

Though often in opposition, the two approaches, trait and typological, are treated as complementary in this study which attempts to describe translators’ personality through traits as stable characteristics, and cognitive functions as dynamic entities. Our interest in relating personality to translation as a profession and as a situated activity draws on previous attempts to study translators’ personality.

3 Review of personality research in Translation Studies

The interdependence between the translation profession and the personalities of its agents was noticed long ago. Notably, Savory postulated that “to linguistic knowledge and literary capacity, a translator must add sympathy, insight, diligence and conscientiousness” (Savory 1968: 36).

Reiss was the first to apply psychological theories to translation by using the characterological typology designed by Spranger (1922/1928). Driven by the idea to design the functional translation-oriented text typology, Reiss assumed that certain personality characteristics might be related to the quality of translation performance (Reiss 1971/2014). Out of the six possible character-based categories suggested by Spranger,[4] Reiss postulated that the aesthetic type would be the best translator, the theoretical type should be good at technical and philosophical texts, and the aggressive type would be the worst translator. Despite the absence of empirical evidence to support her claim, Reiss directed TS scholars to a new research avenue and is now considered as a forerunner of personality research in translation (Hubscher Davidson 2009: 178).

The anthropological line of approach was then continued by Henderson (1987) who used Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor Inventory to compare the personality profiles of conference interpreters and professional translators. He sought to test the hypothesis that certain personality characteristics are identifiable among professional linguists and can help to distinguish between two groups of experts, translators and interpreters. Secondly, Henderson wanted to scrutinize the stereotype of experts in each profession to prove that personality is essential for translation expertise and should be accounted for in professional training. Henderson collected his data from a sample of one hundred linguists, 65 translators and 35 interpreters, who were asked to complete two types of questionnaires. The statistical analysis revealed that the two professional groups displayed extensive overlap with regards to personality factors, and the differences were not significant. Moreover, the results debunked the stereotypical myth about translators being mostly introverts and interpreters mostly extraverts, and pacified the worries about “split personalities” expressed by those who combine the two professions. Among the unpredicted differences, though, was that translators seem to be more practical, whereas interpreters tend to be more imaginative (Henderson 1987: 125). All in all, a translator’s personality profile could be drafted as follows: “reserved, intelligent, emotionally stable, humble, sober, conscientious, shy, apprehensive, self-sufficient, controlled and conservative (the last one very tentatively supported)” (Henderson 1987: 125). An interpreter’s profile included the following features: “outgoing, intelligent, assertive, happy-golucky, venturesome, self-assured, group-dependent and expedient” (Henderson 1987: 125). Henderson’s study demonstrated that personality characteristics are important for the acquisition and development of translation competence, yet the idea did not immediately attract much further research.

Among the scanty personality research in TS, Kurz (1996) attempted to draft the personality profiles of translators and interpreters using Casse’s communication value orientation model (Casse 1981). The idea behind the model is that there are four different communication styles, and each person is distinctly inclined to one of them: (1) action-oriented (what?); (2) process-oriented (how?); (3) people-oriented (teamwork); (4) idea-oriented (why?). The participants were 31 beginners and 39 advanced students of translation and interpreting at the University of Vienna. They were asked to fill out questionnaires in a way that would best describe the personalities of a translator and an interpreter. The empirical data showed that a typical translator was process and people oriented, while a typical interpreter was people and action oriented. Despite the fact that her assumptions were supported by empirical evidence, Kurz admitted certain flaws in her study and concluded that a more detailed analysis of personality profiles of translators and interpreters is needed (Kurz 1996: 15).

Further efforts to define the factors that intervene in the process of translation were reported by Barboni (1999 quoted after Hubscher Davidson 2009: 180), who applied her experience in psychoanalysis and clinical psychology. Although not supported by empirical study, her ideas on the role of personality in translation performance were similar to those of Reiss (1971/ 2014), who assumed that there was a link between certain personality traits and translating a particular text type. Barboni regarded translation to be a stressful activity and claimed that each translator used certain defence mechanisms, which reverberated in their translation process and product. Barboni classified these mechanisms as a pattern of behaviour influenced by an individual set of personality traits often rooted in the translator’s childhood and background.

A more empirical approach was taken by Schweda-Nicholson (2005) who concentrated on the interpreter’s personality viewed through the prism of cognitive types measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The study, though aimed at constructing the interpreter’s profile, marked a shift of interest from purely psychological domains to cognitive psychology. As the tool she applied was later used on multiple occasions in translator-oriented studies as well as in the present one, her findings are relevant to our research. Schweda-Nicholson asked a total of 68 interpreter trainees to fill out the MBTI psychometric test. She hypothesised that most interpreters would be “Extravert (E), Intuitive (N), Thinking (T) and Judging (J) or, in the vernacular of the MBTI, ‘ENTJ’” (Schweda-Nicholson 2005: 118). The findings showed an even distribution of Extraverts and Introverts, and also of Sensors and Intuitors, whereas there appeared to be more Thinkers than Feelers and only slightly more Judgers than Perceivers. An interesting finding was that, despite the popular belief, the profession attracts both Extraverts and Introverts. A suggestion was made that initial Introverts when exposed to the demands of the profession might start to behave like Extraverts. Another part of the hypothesis refuted by empirical evidence revealed that both concrete and abstract-minded individuals (Sensors and Intuitors) can perform well as interpreters. The most significant finding was that Thinkers outnumbered Feelers by two to one, which proves the idea that interpreting requires quick logical decisions which Thinkers are more likely to make.

The MBTI was later used by Hubscher Davidson (2009) to study the translator’s personalities together with Think Aloud Protocols (TAPs) to link personality types and the translation process and product. Twenty translation trainees were asked to complete a background questionnaire, and then translate an extract of a literary text from French (their L2) into English (their L1). Concurrently with translation, they were asked to verbalize what they were doing (the TAP method). Following the translation task, they were invited to fill out a retrospective questionnaire and take an online MBTI test. The translations were later assessed by the experts against a specifically designed assessment scale. Having applied this complex methodology, Hubscher Davidson reported that the decision-making patterns elicited by TAPs revealed that Intuitors greatly outperformed Sensors in terms of translation quality. This finding differed from Schweda-Nicholson’s (2005) results for trainee interpreters and confirmed that the translation of literary texts required in-depth and visionary rather than logical and straightforward decisions.[5]

The above valuable attempts to devise the personality profile of a translator from both cognitive and psychological perspectives have underscored the importance of investigating personality factors, but a more comprehensive systematic approach towards translator’s personality has not been suggested as yet. Considering the present advances in understanding translation expertise and translation as a cognitive activity, two areas of research will be discussed where the translator’s personality might play, an as yet unspecified, role. These include translation competence and translation process research.

4 Translation competence models and personality issues

The findings of competence-oriented research could well justify the link between personality and occupational requirements. The first successful attempt to build a translation competence model goes back to 1997 when the PACTE research group launched its longitudinal project at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The team conducted a number of experimental studies to trace the development and acquisition of translation competence, defined as “the underlying system of knowledge needed to translate” (PACTE 2003: 330). It sought to explain the mental processes involved in translation and their impact on the translation product, with the final aim being to extract the sub-competences important for successful translation performance in trainees and professional translators. The results of the study generated the PACTE translation competence model which includes the following subcompetences: (1) bilingual; (2) extra-linguistic; (3) strategic; (4) instrumental; (5) knowledge about translation sub-competence as well as the so-called psycho-physiological components. The psycho-physiological components are defined as:

Different types of cognitive and attitudinal components and psycho-motor mechanisms. They include: (1) cognitive components such as memory, perception, attention and emotion; (2) attitudinal aspects such as intellectual curiosity, perseverance, rigour, critical spirit, knowledge of and confidence in one’s own abilities, the ability to measure one’s own abilities, motivation, etc.; (3) abilities such as creativity, logical reasoning, analysis and synthesis, etc.

(PACTE 2003: 93.)

The above quote seems to confirm the claim about the connection between certain cognitive functions and psychological factors which contribute to building overall competence needed to provide translation services.

A similar construct (intelligence, ambition, perseverance, self-confidence, etc.) was listed by Göpferich as a factor influencing the overall development of translation competence in the TransComp competence model (Göpferich et al. 2009: 22). The longitudinal study was carried out at the University of Graz from 2007 till 2011. It resulted in a comprehensive translation competence model which includes: (1) communicative competence in at least two languages; (2) domain competence; (3) tools and research competence; (4) psycho-motor competence; (5) translation routine activation competence; and (6) strategic competence as the central one. The TransComp team argues that the employment and control of the necessary subcompetences depends on three main factors: (1) the translation brief and translation norms; (2) the translator’s self-concept/professional ethos; and (3) the translator’s psycho-physical disposition. Despite the tentative assumption that the third factor might have an influence on competence acquisition, little empirical proof has so far been presented.

Finally, some personality-related factors are present in the practical description of the competences of professional translators issued for the candidates for the European Master’s in Translation (EMT) programme. The EMT competence model includes such components as (1) language competence; (2) intercultural competence; (3) information mining competence; (4) thematic competence; (5) technological competence; and (6) translation service provision competence being the central one. Despite the fact that the model itself is devoid of direct reference to the possible influence of personality factors, such references appear in the detailed description of almost each sub-competence. In particular, the interpersonal dimension of the central sub-competence involves “knowing how to self-evaluate (questioning one’s habits; being open to innovations, being concerned with quality; being ready to adapt to new situations/conditions) and take responsibility” (Gambier et al. 2009[6]). The thematic sub-competence mentions “developing a spirit of curiosity, analysis and summary”, and the intercultural one suggests “knowing how to describe and evaluate one’s problems with comprehension and define strategies for resolving those problems” (Gambier 2009: 5–6). Although only implicitly, personality characteristics do feature in the list of requirements for the EMT candidates, which means that their role is tacitly assumed and therefore worth investigating.

The cognitive and psycho-physiological aspects of a translator’s personality, though indicated as important for the development and acquisition of expertise in translation, have so far remained under-researched. Similarly, the relationship between personality features and the translation process seems to call for a more systematic investigation.

5 Translation process research and personality issues

Translation Process Research (TPR) has by now developed into a very promising area of investigation which unites researchers devoted to the study of translation as a complex cognitive activity (Muñoz Martín 2014). The available research methodology (Saldanha and O’Brien 2014) offers a range of tools for collecting on-line data showing how translators proceed in their work. The key-logging software, Translog (Jakobsen 2005) has been repeatedly used to investigate the process of text production of professional translators and translation trainees. Screen recordings have been investigated to discern the stages of problem solving supported by the use of on-line resources and eye-tracking studies have confirmed that reading for translation differs, for example, from reading for comprehension (Jakobsen and Jensen 2008). Although the differences in the translation processes of professional translators and trainees have been demonstrated in many studies the question whether some personality factors play a role in translators’ decision-making has not been researched, at least to the best of our knowledge, with the newly available methodology. The likelihood that personality factors might indeed have some impact is implicit in the individual variation frequently reported in TPR studies.

Bearing in mind the composite nature of translation competence, individual variation in translators’ performance as well as in the products of the translation process can be attributed to a combination of factors and pinpointing a single decisive one is extremely difficult (Hubscher Davidson 2009). There are, nevertheless, many translation process studies which report significant individual variation in the performance of the participants at all stages of the translation process which cannot be attributed to the coarse grained factors such as the level of translation competence or years of professional experience. For example, PACTE (2011) reported that there was significant individual variation in how translation students identified problems. Immonen (2006) studied the distribution of pauses in the translation and monolingual writing of professional translators and noted that the processing units varied for individual translators in both tasks. Künzli (2007) reported vast intra-group variation during the revision processes of professional translators which he attributed to motivation -an internal factor virtually impossible to control. The individual differences found in TPR studies most likely contribute to the repeatedly acknowledged difficulty to replicate research results (Alves et al. 2011). Suggestions have been made that to increase the likelihood of replicating TPR studies a more rigorous subject profiling is needed, as labels such as novice translator, translation trainee or professional translator are still quite vague (Muñoz Martín 2010: quoted after O’Brien 2013: 8).[7]

The confounding variables ascribed to the translator’s individual cognitive context and translation styles include a wealth of factors. Some of them are extremely implicit and fine-grained as, for example, the idiosyncratic ways in which translators manage uncertainty in decision-making (Angelone and Shreve 2011) or the ways their personal beliefs about translation influence the process (Presas and Martín de León 2014). The cognitive research paradigm adopted in TPR provides a feasible framework for a more fine-grained and individually conditioned approach to translation. As observed by Muñoz Martín,

now the enormous variation found in subjects’ behavior can be ad dressed from the perspective of their emotions, intuitions and individual behavioral styles. Durieux (2007) explains that decision-making is not the result of pure rational thought and strict inference rules. The process is conditioned by human cognitive limitations, the availability of information, and the time span available to make such decisions.

(Muñoz Martín 2014: 70.)

Following the above broad view of the multitude of factors which interplay in the way translators make decisions, in the study presented below we have attempted to include personality factors as a variable which affects the process of translation and therefore finds its way into translation as a product.

6 Present research proposal

The present research proposal is based on the assumption that a set of personality characteristics (cf. Jääskelainen 2012) might prove decisive for the successful development of translation competence and efficient translation performance. The idea has been rooted in two major premises: (1) people choose to be in situations that are in accord with their traits (Mischel 1968), which, in their turn, influence their behaviour; (2) translation is a special kind of situated activity triggering a translator’s “cognitive behaviour” (Wilss 1996: 37) which in turn relies on the use of certain mental functions. The first premise comes from Bandura’s (1986)reciprocal determinism, a claim which is meant to answer the question whether personality traits or situational factors are more important in predicting human behaviour. As there seems to be no clear evidence in favour of, or against either suggestion, psychologists hold that personality traits and situational factors are equally important in guiding our behaviour. The second premise postulates that translation as a special kind of situated activity triggers certain patterns of a translator’s cognitive behaviour compatible with the translator’s set of personality characteristics. In consequence, the preferred patterns of problem solving will be manifested in the end product.

7 Description of the pilot study

Given the comprehensive character of the full research proposal, the present paper reports on the first pilot study designed to test the ground and draw tentative conclusions as to the methodology and possible research avenues.

7.1 Aims

In our interdisciplinary attempt to combine trait and cognitive type approaches within psychology, and process and product analysis within Translation Studies, the pilot study was aimed at trying to:

  1. identify personality features that are dominant among those who either already practice translation as a profession or are in the process of training to become translators;

  2. investigate whether identified personality features interact with the translation process and product.

7.2 Hypotheses

Due to the complex methodology applied in the study, we have outlined five major hypotheses. Two of them stem from the trait approach and are connected with translation product analysis, and three are based on the theory of cognitive types and translation process analysis. The hypotheses are listed below:

  1. Certain dominant personality factors distinguish translation practitioners from non-translators.

  2. The combination of such dominant personality factors as Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience is relevant to the quality of the translation product.

  3. Sensing types tend to rely more on external resources in the process of translation. Intuitive types being more self-reliant in their translation process less frequently need to resort to external resources.

  4. Thinking types are more analytical, less likely to change their decisions and show less text elimination in the process of translation. Feeling types are more spontaneous; tend to make quick decisions, which are then subject to text elimination.

  5. Thinking types produce more stable decisions in the informative text (and eliminate less), while Feeling types are more secure with their decisions in the expressive text (and eliminate less).

Hypotheses 1 and 2 are based on the assumption that translation as a profession attracts people with a certain set of personality characteristics distinct from non-translators. Translators with dominant traits such as Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience (according to HEXACO) will produce better quality translations. The two traits have been related to workplace success and academic achievements. Hypotheses 3–5 link personality type based on the description of mental functions measured by the MBTI with aspects of the translation process.

Hypothesis 3 is concerned with the preferred way of taking in information which predicts that Sensing types are more practical, experience-dependent and trust factual information received from their senses while Intuitive types are more abstract-minded and attach more importance to meaning and its interpretation than facts. The Sensing vs. Intuitive type dichotomy has been operationalized as the degree of reliance on external resources in the process of making decisions in translation.

Hypothesis 4 refers to the manner of decision making in translation, and Hypothesis 5 relates decision making to the text type. It is assumed that Thinking types are more logical in their decisions, are good at organizing and synthesizing their ideas and will make few changes. Feeling types are more spontaneous; base their decisions on their feelings and emotions in a given situation. The Thinking vs. Feeling dichotomy has been associated with the

number of text eliminations in the process of translation. The decision making for the Thinking and Feeling types will be additionally dependent on the text type (Hypothesis 5), i.e., it will be different when translating an expressive text, which requires more creative decisions, and an informative text, requiring precision and logic.

7.3 Participants

The data was gathered from four groups of participants: 10 1MA translation trainees[8] (average age 23 years, average duration of translation training 10 months), 7 professional freelance translators (average age 37 years, average job experience 7 years) and a control group composed of 48 students (average age 24 years) from a technical university who studied such diverse disciplines as engineering, building and transportation. As the experiment progressed, a fourth, originally unplanned group was added to the list. These were 28 translators (average age 41 years, average job experience 17 years) with different language combinations who created their blog on, a famous website for exchanging information among translators worldwide. The blog was devoted to the issue of translator’s personality and served as a platform for different users to share and discuss their results of the MBTI test, which we incorporated to provide supportive evidence for the present study.

7.4 Methodology and procedure

The toolkit used to gather data included Translog II, the key-logging software used to record translation process data (Jakobsen 2005), a retrospective questionnaire designed for the study in order to gather demographical data, translator’s preferences in their profession and their feelings about the experiment, and two psychometric tests measuring traits and cognitive functions respectively (HEXACO and MBTI;[9] see Sections 1.1 and 1.2 for details).

The translation trainees and professionals were asked to translate 250 word extracts of expressive and informative text types[10] (cf. Reiss 1971/ 2014) from English (their L2) into Polish (their L1). The order of texts was counterbalanced to ensure that the sequence of texts would not influence the translation process. No time limitations were set for the task. To track the participants’ use of external resources, they were instructed to type in the letter “D” for the use of dictionaries, “W” for the World Wide Web, and “O” for other reference materials.[11] Then the engine-generated history of Internet search was collected after each participant finished the task. The translation quality assessment sheet (“TQA sheet”) based on Williams’ (2009) argumentation-centred approach to translation quality assessment was adapted to our design to evaluate the translation product. Finally, the participants were invited to fill out the paper version of HEXACO and the online MBTI test. Because of our plan to use the English online version of MBTI for the pilot, the control group that comprised students of various fields and levels of expertise was only asked to complete the paper version of HEXACO. To gather more relevant data, this design will be improved in further experiments within the project.

7.5 Data analysis

The data to test Hypothesis 1 involved the comparison of the HEXACO test results from the control group with the results reported by translation trainees and professionals. The remaining hypotheses required an examination of any relationship between the personality traits obtained from the HEXACO test and the quality of the translation product (Hypothesis 2), and personality related mental functions obtained from the MBTI test as related to the translation process data (Hypotheses 3–5).

In the analysis stage, translation products were assessed[12] by two independent markers (professional translators and teachers of translation) and two potential readers. The scores for both tests across all groups of participants were calculated, and the Translog-generated data, including text elimination and Internet look-ups, were carefully examined.

7.5.1 Personality traits and the quality of the translation product: Hypotheses 1 and 2

Figure 1 shows the scores on a 5 point scale for the six traits measured by HEXACO PI across the three groups of participants: trainees, professionals and the control group. Translation practitioners differ from the control group in the quantitative distribution of such traits as Conscientiousness (C) and Openness to Experience (O), the latter group scoring lower for both factors.

Figure 1 Distribution of HEXACOSee Section 2.1 for deciphering letters in the acronym. scores across the three groups of participants

Figure 1

Distribution of HEXACO[13] scores across the three groups of participants

The dominance of Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience confirms Hypothesis 1 that translation practitioners are distinct from the representatives of other professional domains in that they share certain dominant personality traits. A closer look at the scores for Conscientiousness and Openness across the three groups of participants is presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Distribution of Conscientiousness (C) and Openness to Experience (O) traits across the three groups of participants

Figure 2

Distribution of Conscientiousness (C) and Openness to Experience (O) traits across the three groups of participants

Hypothesis 2 assumed links between the dominant traits, Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience, and the quality of the translation product. Tables 1 and 2 provide the rating (from the lowest to the highest score) of translation quality for both groups, trainees and professionals respectively, as assessed by two professional markers and two potential readers. “Total score 1” is the average score for the expressive text, “Total score 2” is the same for the informative text, and the “Final Total” is the sum of the two. In the experiment student participants were abbreviated to “PS”, and professional translators to “PT”.

Table 1

Relationship between TQA scores and personality traits: Translation trainees.

ParticipantTotal Score 1Total Score 2Final totalHEXACO
Average PS70.4468.30138.74

Table 2

Relationship between TQA scores and personality traits: Professional translators

ParticipantTotal Score 1Total Score 2Final totalHEXACO
Average PT81.5076.86158.36

It becomes apparent that the top of the list in terms of product quality for both groups includes those individuals whose dominant personality traits are the “happy” combination of Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience. The dominant trait in personality psychology is the one that outweighs all the others and is therefore most likely to “dominate” in guiding our behaviour (see Section 2.1). Translations evaluated as those of higher quality were produced by the participants whose Conscientiousness outnumbered Openness, which is best represented by the group of trainees (Table 1).[14] Referring to professionals, most of them with two exceptions (PT2 and PT3) scored slightly higher on Conscientiousness than Openness, and both traits overall occupied dominant positions with a lesser number of variations as opposed to the trainees. The two groups were marked on average higher for the expressive text than the informative, but individual observations might suggest possible interpretations of the relation between dominant traits and translation quality. In particular, PT3, whose Openness trait outweighed Conscientiousness, scored rather low on average for both texts, but received the third highest mark for the expressive text and positive feedback from both markers and readers: “very creative and sometimes unexpected decisions” (Marker 1), “interesting and easy to read” (Reader 2). It appeared that the Openness trait was less influential for translation quality than the Conscientiousness trait, but it might be assumed that text type could be one of the factors to be considered when relating personality traits to translation quality.

7.5.2 Cognitive functions and the translation process: Hypotheses 3–5

To prepare data for analysis in order to test Hypotheses 3, 4 and 5 first the MBTI scores were calculated and compared for the two experimental groups: trainees and professionals. The results were further compared with the scores for the translators to increase their validity. Figure 3 shows the percentage of Sensing and Intuitive type participants across the three groups.

Figure 3 Sensing and Intuitive type participants across the three groups

Figure 3

Sensing and Intuitive type participants across the three groups

Interestingly, trainees are represented by an equal number of Sensing and Intuitive types, whereas the other two groups show a distinct prevalence of the Intuitive types over Sensing. This might be accounted for by the professionals’ language proficiency and the level of expertise which contribute to the development of professional ‘intuition’, as yet unavailable for the trainees.

To test Hypothesis 3 concerning the participants’ reliance on external resources in the process of translation, the MBTI scores (Sensing vs. Intuitive) were associated with the number of Internet look-ups recorded in the Translog files and history of Internet searches. Figure 4 and 5 show the average use of reference materials among the Sensing and Intuitive type participants respectively. The data provided in the figures show the average number of look-ups for both groups.

Figure 4 Average use of reference materials among the Sensing type

Figure 4

Average use of reference materials among the Sensing type

Figure 5 Average use of reference materials among the Intuitive type

Figure 5

Average use of reference materials among the Intuitive type

Irrespective of the dominant function (Sensing vs. Intuitive), the trainees relied much more heavily on external resources than the professionals. The Intuitive type professionals, on the other hand, as assumed in Hypothesis 3 proved more self-reliant and used reference materials less than the Sensing types.

Hypothesis 4 assumed that the Feeling types would change their decisions more often than the Thinking types by eliminating more text in their translation process. First, we calculated the percentage of Thinking and Feeling type participants across the three groups (including users) on the basis of their MBTI scores. The professional translators who took part in our experiment were all classified as the Feeling type, and the groups of trainees and users were (almost) equally represented by Thinkers and Feelers. This tendency could be explained by the fact that all the professional translators who participated in our experiment were females, not infrequently considered to be reliant on their emotions or feelings (“heart”) rather than logical thinking (cf. Schweda-Nicholson 2005: 137).

Figure 6 Thinking and Feeling type participants across the three groups

Figure 6

Thinking and Feeling type participants across the three groups

Due to the lack of Thinking type members among the professionals in our study, Figure 7 displays the average number of text eliminations in both texts only for the Feeling types. The average number of eliminated items by the Thinking type trainees equals 557, which is less than the average for the Feeling type trainees (664). The Feeling type professionals eliminated less (452). Relying on partial data due to confounding circumstances, it was not possible to fully address Hypothesis 4. Still, in the case of the trainees Feelers are more prone to changing their decisions. This statement, however, requires more empirical evidence. To test Hypothesis 5 we further analysed the frequency of changing decisions (as demonstrated by the number of text deletions in the Translog statistics) separately for both text types. The results are visualized in Figures 8 for the Thinking type, 9 and 10 for the Feeling type.

Figure 7 Average score of text deletions across the Feeling type participants

Figure 7

Average score of text deletions across the Feeling type participants

Figure 8 Thinking type trainees’ deletion scores for both texts

Figure 8

Thinking type trainees’ deletion scores for both texts

Figure 9 Feeling type trainees’ deletion scores for both texts

Figure 9

Feeling type trainees’ deletion scores for both texts

Figure 10 Feeling type professionals’ deletion scores for both texts

Figure 10

Feeling type professionals’ deletion scores for both texts

Both Thinking and Feeling type trainees made more deletions in the expressive text, the scores being still higher among the Feeling trainees for this text type, which goes against our hypothesis. Regarding professionals, only two of them made more deletions in the expressive text but still the overall average was slightly higher for the expressive text but considerably lower than in the case of trainees. Reported variations might be individual as well as experience-related, and further research will be needed to test larger samples of participants to allow us to conduct statistical analyses.

8 Discussion of results

The pilot study reported in this paper aimed to test the theoretically based assumptions about the possible relationship between personality factors (traits and functions) and translation performance. Translation as “cognitive behaviour” (Wilss 1996: 37) is guided by certain mental mechanisms which can have a different influence on the process of translation, and by personality traits that reverberate in the quality of the translation product. Although the study has many limitations, mostly due to the small number of participants, it is possible to formulate some tentative conclusions in the following statements:

  1. Translators differ from non-translators in the degree of traits distribution measured by HEXACO PI;

  2. The prevalence of such traits as Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience is shared by both trainees and professionals. Higher ranked translations were found to interact with the Conscientiousness trait in an individual, while the relation of the Openness trait to translation quality needs to be further investigated with respect to the text type.

The dominance of these traits most likely confirms the PACTE group’s claim that translator’s ‘attitudinal aspects’ (see section 3) are relevant to the development of translation competence, and support the ideas of those who believe in a translator’s intellectual flair and diligence (cf. Savory 1968; Robinson 2003).

In particular, Conscientiousness is believed to be the most stable and consistent non-cognitive predictor of job performance and academic attainment (cf. ETS Report 2012). It is associated with the “personal attributes necessary for learning and academic pursuits such as being organized, dependable and efficient, striving for success and exercising self-control” (Mathews and Deary 1998 quoted after ETS Report 2012: 1). Openness to Experience has been found to interact with creativity in the workplace and successful training activities (ETS Report 2012: 1). These two broad person

ality traits and their reflection in job performance are sonorant with what Robinson ironically nominated as a translator’s intellectual flair and ability to be ‘walking dictionaries and encyclopaedias’ or ‘whizzes at Trivial Pursuit’ (Robinson 2003: 22).

The following tentative conclusions pertain to our personality type-related hypotheses:

  1. Sensing types tend to be more scrupulous and often rely on external resources, while the Intuitive types are more self-reliant and depend on internal resources, e.g. previous experience. The claim, however, is more relevant to professionals rather than trainees. Additionally, the predominance of Intuitive types among professionals complements Hubscher Davidson’s finding that Intuitors outweighed Sensors in terms of translation quality (Hubscher Davidson 2007). Further research is needed to show whether Sensing types evolve into Intuitive types parallel to their increasing level of translation competence. The experience related transformation of personality types was reported by Schweda-Nicholson (2005) for interpreter trainees.

  2. As only Feeling type professionals participated in the study the testing of Hypothesis 4 relied on partial data. Both Thinking and Feeling type trainees often changed their decisions, and Feeling professionals made only slightly less deletions on average than Feeling trainees. Possibly, the trainees demonstrate indecisiveness, which has been frequently reported by other studies (cf. Dimitrova 2005, Whyatt 2012). Still the data show that Feeling trainees eliminated more than their Thinking counterparts, which partially confirms our hypothesis that Feelers are more spontaneous and attentive to details, but change their decisions more frequently.

Hypothesis 5 triggers the following response based on our data analysis:

  1. The possible relation between the preferred cognitive functions and translator’s approach to different text types is reported with regards to decision making processes in translation. However, the findings need to be validated on larger samples with the comparison between Feeling and Thinking type professionals. Interestingly, Feeling type trainees eliminated more in the expressive text than the Thinking types, which goes against our assumption. One of the possible explanations is the students’ degree of acquisition of other essential elements of translation competence. Given the constraints of the pilot study, a more detailed analysis of the different approaches towards revision depending on text type is required to support our findings.

These tentative conclusions need to be further validated in a large-scale empirical study supported by thorough statistical analysis and triangulation of data. The presently reported links between traits and text type performance; dominant cognitive functions and translators’ approach to revising different texts (cf. Buchweitz and Alves 2006) are the areas that require particular attention in our further research. Analysing the character of deletions in relation to the number of pauses and total duration of the translation process (cf. Immonen 2006) might also bring interesting insights into the issue of translators’ personality research.

9 Conclusion

The study was exploratory in nature and meant to test data collection tools for a larger scale multi-method study. Personality characteristics, perhaps not decisive in successful translation performance, proved to interact in the translation process and product of our participants. Further research, in particular into the possible effects of personality at each stage of the translation process with reference to the end product, might show whether traits and psychological functions can be convincingly shown to be among the building blocks of translation competence. One of the assumptions to be tested in the upcoming study seeks to establish the relation between cognitive functions and individual approaches to self-revision. Revision strategies are essential to the final quality of the product and might reveal personality-related tendencies in the development of translation competence. Further research is needed to establish whether personality factors can be related to translation performance concerning various text types. Many more questions can be posed, and the current project with the experimental design improved following this pilot study might answer some of them.

Olha Lehka-Paul Faculty of English Adam Mickiewicz University Collegium Novum al. Niepodległości 4 61-874 Poznań Poland


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Appendix 1 TQA SHEET: expressive text (adapted from Williams’ Weighted ARTRAQ Grid, 2009)

ParameterWeight (/10)Quality (/10)Minimum weighted score (/100)Actual score (/100)
Vocabulary use216
Total Rating10/1086%

9–10 – excellent 7–8 – good 5–6 – satisfactory 3–4 – fair 1–2 – poor

Claim: the creation of a vivid, but clear (visual) picture of a group of people at a Riviera party Grounds: each of the diversified international lot of guests with his/her personal characteristics

Instructions for ARTRAQ sheet:

Minimum accepted (weighted) score for claims and grounds (elements of macrostructure) is 10, all other parameters (elements of microstructure) – 8; Calculation: weight × quality = actual score.


Over 86% – high quality translation (accepted, only mere corrections needed); 70%–86% – good; 50%–69% – satisfactory; <49% – unsatisfactory.

Qualitative evaluation:

Critical defects:

Major defects:

Minor defects:

Please indicate the character of defect: T– transfer (loyalty to the ST) L– language use

Critical defect – defects impairing translation of the argument macrostructure;

Major defect – other transfer defects which are deemed not to render the translation unusable;

Minor defect – other transfer defects (punctuation, spelling, etc.)

An industrial and academic basis for defining an acceptable level of quality, or a minimum standard, in translation: an acceptable translation is one that fully conveys the argument macrostructure of the source text and is therefore free of critical defects.

TQA SHEET: informative text

(adapted from Williams’ Weighted ARTRAQ Grid, 2009)

ParameterWeight (/10)Quality (/10)Minimum weighted score (/100)Actual score (/100)
Vocabulary use18
Style and register324
Total Rating10/1084%
9–10 – excellent

7–8 – good 5–6 – satisfactory 3–4 – fair 1–2 – poor

Claim: general overview of the functions and areas of expertise of the European Union Grounds: ensuring safety and well-being of all citizens of the European Union

Instructions for ARTRAQ sheet:

Minimum accepted (weighted) score for claims and grounds (elements of macrostructure) is 10, all other parameters (elements of microstructure) – 8; Calculation: weight × quality = actual score.


Over 86% – high quality translation (accepted, only mere corrections needed); 70%–86% -good; 50%–69% -satisfactory; <49% – unsatisfactory.

Qualitative evaluation:

Critical defects:

Major defects:

Minor defects:

Please indicate the character of defect: T– transfer (loyalty to the ST) L– language use

Critical defect – defects impairing translation of the argument macrostructure;

Major defect – other transfer defects which are deemed not to render the translation unusable;

Minor defect – other transfer defects (punctuation, spelling, etc.)

An industrial and academic basis for defining an acceptable level of quality, or a minimum standard, in translation: an acceptable translation is one that fully conveys the argument macrostructure of the source text and is therefore free

Published Online: 2016-6-13
Published in Print: 2016-6-13

© 2016 Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland