Research Articles

On thick translation in linguistic documentation

  • Anthony C. Woodbury


In an important recent paper on translation in linguistic documentation, Nick Evans and Hans-Jürgen Sasse (2006:11) enumerate some of “the sources on which a translation can be based”. They include:•“fragments of rendition, before and afterwards...,•the accumulated understanding, by the investigator, of how the language works,•information from gesture,•relevant information from tellings of the same story by others;•other contextual information that was not recorded but is relevant to the translation, and•subsequent interpretive remarks made after the story.”They emphasise the ongoing, contingent, interpretive, hermeneutical quality of the documentation of meaning.

My goal in this paper is to exemplify and elaborate their point on the basis of my own experience grappling with meaning in field-recorded text, and on the basis of that, to propose recommendations for documenting textual meaning in such a way as to offer maximum transparency to those who may interpret the records we make in a context highly different from that in which we ourselves work: the ‘philologist 500 years from now’. I will label this ‘thick translation’.

Keywords: linguistic documentation, translation, meaning, field records, context, theory, inter-language correspondence

How to Cite:

Woodbury, A., (2007) “On thick translation in linguistic documentation”, Language Documentation and Description 4, 120-135. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2007
Peer Reviewed