Collaborative Practice in Contemporary Buddhist Translation Communities: A Study of Text Production, Expertise Acquisition and Modes of Community Participation in Two Chinese-English Buddhist Translation Projects

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project examines the work of volunteer translators in Buddhist translation communities, focusing on how translators work collaboratively to produce a final translated text. The notion of collaborative translation is one that has only recently begun to gain importance in translation research: whilst it has long been recognized that certain translation activities have been undertaken collaboratively, the image of the lone translator working in relative isolation has continued to inform perceptions of how translations are produced and what it means to translate. The growth of online “wiki”- style translation communities that allow multiple inputs to a given translation in progress has led to a scholarly reappraisal of these perceptions. Key issues include the blurring of boundaries between professional and non-professional practice, authority and community organization, learning and expertise acquisition, and participant motivation.

Despite the importance of these issues, still relatively little is understood about translator behaviour and text production in collaborative contexts. Translation communities that do not rely exclusively on online collaborative platforms have been under-researched, and this is especially true of religious translation communities, notwithstanding the fact that large amounts of volunteer translation take place in such communities on a regular basis. Buddhist translation communities are particularly interesting both because of their importance in the East Asian region and their link with historical traditions of Buddhist sutra translation, which still sometimes explicitly informs their collaborative practices.

The present project will consider two different communities that each involve a mixture of lay volunteer translators and Buddhist monastics (both with different levels of translation experience). Both of the chosen communities have complex networks of text production that include translators, revisers, accuracy checkers and quality controllers, working both on-site in the same workspace and online in a worldwide virtual community. In each case, this project will conduct an in-depth study to examine modes of text production, mechanisms of collaboration, community organization and member identity, and issues of learning and expertise acquisition within the community. The project takes as its theoretical framework Wenger’s “communities of practice” theory, whilst its methodology combines ethnographic approaches such as interview surveys and participant observation with textual analysis of “edit chains” – drafts of previous versions of the translation that show editing decisions by different participants in the translation and revision process. The project expects to make a significant contribution to expanding existing conceptions of collaborative translation and understandings of translator expertise acquisition in a community-based interactive context.
Effective start/end date1/01/1630/06/19


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