Book review Cordingley, A. & Frigua Manning, C. Collaborative translation

Cordingley, A. & Frigau Manning, C. (Eds.). (2017). Collaborative translation: From the Renaissance to the digital age. London/New York: Bloomsbury Academic. 272pp.

For their recently-published book Collaborative Translation: From the Renaissance to the Digital Age, Anthony Cordingley and Celine Frigau Manning selected a title that seems designed to draw the attention of any curious prospective co-translator.  As it suggests, the book offers a novel research resource for scholars wishing to refocus on collaborative translation and related issues. Like the theme for the 2009 International Translation Day, Working Together, the book provides a good starting point to reevaluate collaborative translation, because it underscores the point that “the days of the fiercely solitary translator working in splendid isolation are numbered” (Echevarria, 2009).

In their introductory chapter, the book’s two co-editors helpfully consider the nature and meaning of collaborative translation. A series of questions leads them to conclude that “the popular image of the lonely translator is strikingly at odds with the reality of his or her work within the profession” (p. 1). They devote the remainder of this chapter to discussing the definition of collaborative translation, retracing the development of the myths of collaboration and exploring its influence on current translation practices. In general, they call for further consideration of collaborative translation as an emerging field through this book, with its goal of opening up new avenues for research.

Beyond their own introductory chapter, the editors organize the book into three parts, the first of which they devote to Reconceptualizing the Translator: Renaissance and Enlightenment Perspectives. Belén Bistué gets this section off to a brisk start in Chapter 2, entitled On the Incorrect Way to Translate: The Absence of Collaborative Translation from Leonardo Bruni's De Interpretatione Recta. She presents a thorough look at Bruni’s treatise, with special emphasis on his rejection of collaborative translation. While collaborative translation, as a translation practice, was a common phenomenon during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, it failed to meet Bruni’s most basic requirements of correct translation. Bistué, however, identifies a blind spot in Bruni’s treatise through several instances of collaboration that appear in the century following the early Renaissance. Through her insightful comments, the author highlights the importance of collaborative translation in today’s world to reveal its significant absence, and demonstrates that collaborative translation should remain firmly within the scope of translation studies.

In Chapter 3, ‘Shared’ Translation: The Example of Forty Comedies by Goldoni in France (1993-4), Françoise Decroisette offers an insightful account of ‘shared’ translation and reflects on her own translation experience. She begins with a brief introduction to the term ‘shared’ translation and the debate that has emerged around it. She holds that “in contrast to ‘collaborative’ [translation], [‘shared’ translation] avoids the confusion between the term’s two possible etymologies, one negative–collabor, collapus, to slip, to fall–and the other positive–collaboro, collaboratum, to work in concert” (p. 50). She then draws on her own experience of shared translation involving forty comedies by Carlo Goldoni to provide a detailed illustration of what she means by ‘shared’ translation. In the process of ‘shared’ translation, she proposes integrating the spectator into the translation process. On the one hand, the reactions of spectators are very important for the reception of comedy translation. On the other hand, the translators, actors, and stage directors are spectators themselves, and thus their reactions should also be considered. Lastly, the chapter points out the limits of translation and staging, as well as some perspectives on the challenges encountered in translating the titles of certain comedies.

Jean-Louis Fournel and Jean-Claude Zancarini share their translation experience in Chapter 4, For a Practice-theory of Translation: On Our Translations of Savonarola, Machiavelli, Guicciardini and Their Effects. They set the stage for this chapter by introducing two concepts, “quality of the times” and “political philosophy”, to critically approach texts of political players and authors of the historical moment of the Italian Wars from the historical and political perspectives. They define “quality of the times” as “what we may call the ‘conjuncture’: to the stakes and power relationships that define a precise historical moment, and which must be taken into account if and when one intends to act” (p. 70). The “political philology” means that “terminological usage cannot be dissociated from a historical and political analysis which gives this writing sense” (p. 71). As the texts fall within a concrete historical reality, the authors use these two concepts to perform the follow-up historical and political analysis. Subsequently, they present the general rule (the translated works have as much richness as the Italian works) and partial rules (the maintaining of coherent semantic fields and the respect of syntactical complexity) guiding their translation work, as well as their responses to the question about the choice to translate together. Both authors also include two reflections on the importance of orality and the oral tradition. The first explores the notion of the Septuagint as the forerunner of the translation workshop. The second reflection considers the crucial question of rhythm.

Part 2 of the book (Collaborating with the Author) turns to a different kind of collaborative translation, one in which the author is a partner. In Chapter 5, entitled Author-translator Collaborations: A Typological Survey, Patrick Hersant presents an example of an author who gives general recommendations to the translator, and another in which the author gives the translator carte blanche. He also examines the process of revision and the forms that “closelaboration” can take. In addition, he touches upon the rarity–and reliability–of a translator’s drafts and manuscripts, as well as conflictual working relationships between an author and his or her translator. The chapter concludes with a discussion of collaborative efficiency.

Olga Anokhina continues the discussion of authors and translators in Chapter 6, Vladimir Nabokov and His Translators: Collaboration or Translation under Duress?. Anokhina examines Nabokov’s collaborative practices, namely, collaboration with both Anglophone and Francophone translators. Anokhina is mainly concerned with the strategies behind translator selection and the rationales for seeking external translators. Particularly noteworthy are Nabokov’s interventions in the translations of his work into French, which became the basis of a conflict conducted in letters passing back and forth between him and one specific translator. Not surprisingly, the author stresses the fact that “working in collaboration with Nabokov was certainly a great privilege, but it also necessarily meant working under duress, in a strictly delimited space of freedom, in which the demanding writer always had the last word” (p. 122). Readers will benefit from this chapter’s numerous notes (i.e., the largest number of notes of any chapter in this book).

Céline Letawe examines another author’s approach to translators in Chapter 7, Günter Grass and His Translators: From a Collaborative Dynamic to an Apparatus of Control?. In particular, she focuses on two seminars that Grass organized for the translation of two of his novels. Basing her analysis on the surviving correspondence, protocols, recordings and comparisons of various translations in conjunction with the author’s original text, she offers a particularly rich and convincing illustration of Grass’s argument that “the seminars allow not only for a collaboration between author and translator but also among translators themselves” (p. 133). She concludes with an interesting observation about the translator’s visibility, which “is posed at three levels: not only at the intra-textual level (inside the text) but also at the para-textual (for example on the cover or in the preface) and extra-textual levels (the translators’ seminars started by Grass contribute considerably to his translators’ extra-textual visibility)” (p. 138).

In Chapter 8, Contemporary Poetry and Transatlantic Poetics at the Royaumont Translation Seminars (1983-2000): An Experimental Language Laboratory, Abigail Lang meticulously examines the origins, aims, roles and legacies of the Royaumont Translation Seminars. She does so with the help of interviews, letters and archival material. Furthermore, the author underscores the effect that these collaborative practices had on the aesthetic development of Emmanuel Hocquard, as well as their influence on the transmission of French poetry across the Atlantic, and its reception. This chapter offers excerpts that make the discussions come alive for the reader (despite regrettable editorial errors, such as the misuse of quotation marks).

Part 3 of the book (Environments of Collaboration) explores, across four chapters, approaches to collaborative translation in a digital age. In Chapter 9, Online Multilingual Collaboration: Haruki Murakami's European Translators, Anna Zielinska-Elliott and Ika Kaminka consider three common models of collaboration in translation, and then shift to a well-argued discussion of a fourth and new model, which they call “independent collaboration between translators of the same work into different languages” (p. 174). They largely base their understanding of independent collaboration on an even-handed investigation of the European Murakami translators’ network. However, it is notable that the authors appear to concern themselves only with common models of collaborative translation in the narrow sense of the term, namely author-translator(s) collaboration and collaboration between two or more translators, while failing to include models in a broader sense, such as collaboration between author and editor, reader, agent, censor and agency, for example.

Examining the potential of another digital age phenomenon in collaborative translation, Miguel A. Jiménez-Crespo presents a survey of the development and state of crowdsourcing research in Chapter 10, Translation Crowdsourcing: Research Trends and Perspectives. Jiménez-Crespo first looks into the definition of crowdsourcing and its different subtypes, so as to disentangle the terminological confusion, and then identifies the main research trends in translation crowdsourcing. The author concludes with a look at the future applications of crowdsourcing, which may help researchers as they reflect on such important issues as identifying the motivations and loyalty of crowdsourcers, the social implications of crowdsourcing translation, and potential directions for research in this area.

In Chapter 11, The Role of Institutional Collaborations in Contexts of Official Bilingualism: The Canadian Example, Gillian Lane-Mercier addresses the ethical and political issues associated with institutional collaboration. Regarding the Translation Grants Program administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, Lane-Mercier has focused largely on the program’s introduction, in particular its objectives, areas of interest, and impact. She presents first-hand documents, such as meeting minutes, memoranda and mission statements, as favorable evidence to support her analysis. Most recently, the academic community has called for a sociological orientation in translation and interpreting studies. The institutional collaborations included in this chapter will make it possible to lay the exploratory groundwork for further addressing issues related to the sociology of translation.

In the book’s final chapter, A New Ecology for Translation? Collaboration and Resilience, Michael Cronin, inspired by the idea of the Anthropocene Age, approaches his analysis from the perspective of a posthumanist ecology of translation. To do this, he mostly concentrates on introducing the term in light of three specific principles of translation ecology, namely, place, resilience and relatedness. In general terms he defines resilience “the capacity for individuals, cultures and societies to withstand stress or catastrophe” (p. 240), while “relatedness is something of a truism that translation not only relates to historical contexts, languages and cultures, [but it] even relates to a more unexpected form, that is the nonhuman” (p. 243). Unfortunately, the author’s occasional use of obscure or unfamiliar words can, at times, make it hard to grasp his intended meaning. Compounding this problem is the chapter’s lack of notes, which may cause some confusion or uncertainty for readers.

The major strength of this book lies in the fact that, unlike most previous translation studies focused on the solo, individual or independent translation, it offers a breath of fresh air for understanding collaborative translation. The book also sounds the call for paying more attention to new materials or corpora, such as archives, annual reports, and strategic plans. Moreover, a wide range of theoretical models were adopted to make the arguments more convincing, as we see noted in Chapter 10, “most researches have been adapted from social research (using online survey methods, for instance), ethnography, document surveys or combinations of different methods” (p. 200). Therefore, the result is a multi-faceted and challenging exploration that advances understanding not only of collaborative translation, but also of translation studies in general, as well as of the translation process itself. An additional strength of the book is its copious explanatory notes, which have the advantage of opening doors to further background information that can substantiate or further develop the arguments made throughout the book.

However, this book is not without its regrets. Its failure to offer a standard and clear-cut definition for the term ‘collaborative translation’ is one drawback. Those in the field continue to note that “[t]here is no consensus on the definition of the concept in most previous studies” (Liang & Xu, 2015, p. 56), notwithstanding that some studies have made general references to collaborative translation. A further regret is the lack of a brief introduction to each chapter, which would help to facilitate understanding of the chapters as a whole in advance. Furthermore, the book appears to focus on collaborative translation of literary works only, while failing to consider that of non-literary works (e.g., collaborative translation of political works), which deserve equal attention.

Overall, however, this book is the first to investigate collaborative translation on such a thorough and exhaustive scale. It is for this reason that it marks a significant contribution to the field of translation studies, and serves as a potent stimulus for further study in related fields. Anyone interested in collaborative translation, whether scholars and researchers or students and practitioners, will be able to gain maximum benefit from this book.


This research is supported by the Humanities and Social Sciences Project, Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China under Grant No. 18YJC740045.


Echevarria, M. (2009). 2009 Translation day theme: Working together. Retrieved 16 May 2017 from <>.

Liang, L. X., & Xu, M. W. (2015). Analysis of the mode of translation from the perspective of co-translation. Translation Review, 92(1), 5472.


Linxin Liang
School of Foreign Languages, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China

Mingwu Xu
School of Foreign Languages, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China