Panel 7: Indirect translation: exploratory panel on the state-of-the-art and future research avenues ( Hanna Pieta, Alexandra Assis Rosa)

Context and rationale

The widespread use of indirect translation in literary exchange between (semi)peripheral (Heilbron 1999) languages is common knowledge for translation studies scholars. However, although it is a frequent and longstanding practice, indirect translation, here understood as any “translation based on a source (or sources) which is itself a translation into a language other than the language of the original, or the target language” (Kittel and Frank 1991: 3), remains one of the most understudied phenomena in translation studies today (see, e.g., St. André 2008: 232).

Obviously, this is not to say that the phenomenon in question has been completely ignored by academics. The situation is quite the reverse, and scholarly publications abound with passing references to indirect translation, as “it is almost impossible to examine literary exchange, especially historically, without coming across this phenomenon” (Ringmar 2007: 4). However, until very recently in-depth comprehensive studies with a specific focus on this issue have been sparse and it is only in recent years that indirect translation has received more attention. The fact that since the publication of St. André’s essay (2008) at least 13 papers and monographs focussing on indirect literary transfer have been published may well serve as an indication of increased scholarly interest in this phenomenon.

Irrespective of this growing academic interest, the position of research into indirect translation within the framework of translation studies still appears to be marginal. This is reflected, for instance, in the conspicuous absence of a separate entry for indirect translation in the first and second edition of one of the most recent key reference works for the discipline in question, namely the Handbook of Translation Studies (Gambier and Van Doorslaer 2010). The fact that the very same source contains an autonomous entry for relay interpreting (Shlesinger 2010) further suggests that indirectness is one of the few research areas in translation studies where interpreting appears to enjoy more visibility than translation.

The scant attention paid to indirect translation is also visible in the lack of consensus concerning the metalanguage involved. For instance, whilst Kittel (1991: 26) differentiates between ‘intermediate’ (first-hand) and ‘mediated’ (second-hand) translation, Toury (1995) uses these terms interchangeably, together with the terms ‘indirect’ and ‘second-hand’ translation. Dollerup (2009), for his part, distinguishes between indirect translation (where the mediating translation is not intended for a particular audience, serving merely as a stepping stone to the ultimate translation) and relayed translation (where the mediating translation, i.e. the relay, has its own proper audience). Moreover, as mentioned in Koskinen and Paloposki (2010), at times indirect translation is considered a subset of retranslation. However, as usefully suggested by Gambier (1994), the latter term should be reserved for multiple translations of a single source text into one target language.

As regards its importance, recent research into indirect translation appears fairly significant, inasmuch as it yields insights into the historiography of intercultural relationships and the complex role of intermediary centres in the cross-cultural transfer between peripheries. Yet, despite the concentration of research on indirect translation since at least the late 2000s, many areas remain to be explored or await more systematic study.

Objectives and questions

Bearing this in mind, this exploratory study sets out to contribute towards the sum total of knowledge on indirect translation. More specifically, it will try and shed light on the state-of-the art of the research into indirect translation as well as reflect on the possible collaborative future research avenues. As regards the questions to be discussed, they run as follows:

a) how to verify (in)directness; i.e., how to verify whether a translation is direct or indirect; which research tools/methods are most suitable/reliable?; what are their pros and cons?
b) how to verify various degrees of indirectness; i.e., how to distinguish whether an indirect translation is secondary (i.e., using one mediating text/language which itself is a direct translation) or tertiary (i.e., using a mediating text which itself is an indirect translation)? Is there any way of distinguishing between the latter and eclectic translation (i.e., a translation which presupposes the alternate or simultaneous use of several mediating texts, often in different mediating languages)?
c) how to identify the most plausible mediating languages(s)/text(s)?
d) how can we benefit from research models used in the study of relay interpreting; how can we benefit from research models employed in other disciplines (e.g., literary criticism)?

a) are terms ‘indirect’, ‘mediated’, ‘intermediate’, ‘relay’, ‘second-hand’ translation synonyms; what are their connotations in English; are these terms easily translatable to (semi)peripheral languages; which term should we use?
b) which of these terms is most commonly used any why; has there been any change in their use over time?
c) how do languages other than English refer to the phenomenon under study; can English benefit from these terms?

Empirical data
a) what patterns can one find in (in)direct literary transfer between (semi)peripheral cultures; what are the typical regularities/hypotheses with regard to correlations between (in)directness and author profile, translator profile, publisher profile, target text literary genre, the occurrence of the label ‘(in)direct’, date of publications, etc.?
b) does (in)direct transfer of non-literary (technical, scientific) texts between (semi)peripheral cultures obey different dynamics?

Given the panel’s exploratory nature, the main questions listed above will, necessarily, generate further and more specific methodological, conceptual and empirical queries. Therefore, the moderators will review and, if needed, update the above-mentioned set of questions after receiving feedback from other researchers (via emails exchange and, possibly, via open forum through As its name indicates, the forum is an online site that can be accessed by any Internet user, allowing for widespread consultation with other researchers and taking into account their feedback and preferences when deciding on the final set of questions to be discussed during the panel session.


1.These calculations are based on bibliographical references obtained by a simple search for the terms ‘indirect translation’, ‘relay translation’, ‘mediated translation’, ‘intermediary translation’, ‘second-hand translation’ and the like, conducted in May 2011 in the Bibliography of Interpreting and Translation (BITRA) ( and Translation Studies Bibliography (TSB) ( Although the list is not exhaustive and the searching method not qualitatively refined, they clearly confirm this increased interest.

2.However, to our knowledge, future releases will encompass a separate entry for the phenomenon here discussed.

3. This has already been tentatively implied by St André (2008: 230-231).

4. For the sake of precision, it should be noted that in what follows the moderators adopt the term ‘indirect translation’ (and not ‘intermediary’, ‘mediated’, ‘relay’, ‘second-hand translation’, etc.). The choice of this term is due to the fact that it appears to have gained ground over the other terms. This is based on search results obtained from the Bibliography of Interpreting and Translation (BITRA) (, May 2011) and the Translation Studies Bibliography (TSB) (, May 2011).


Dollerup, Cay. 2009. “Relay and delay in translation”. Online publication accessed May 12, 2011,
Gambier, Yves. 1994. “La retraduction, retour et détour [Retranslation, return and detour]”. Meta 39:3. 413-417.
Gambier, Yves and Luc van Doorslaer, eds. 2010. Handbook of Translation Studies. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Online version accessed May 12, 2011,
Heilbron, Johan. 1999. “Towards a sociology of translation: Book translations as a cultural world-system”. European Journal of Social Theory 2:4. 429-444. Kittel, Harald. 1991. “Vicissitudes of mediation: The case of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography”. Kittel and Frank 1991. 25-38.
Kittel, Harald and Armin Paul Frank, eds. 1991. Interculturality and the historical study of literary translations. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag.
Koskinen, Kaisa and Outi Paloposki. 2010. Retranslation. Gambier and van Doorslaer 2010. 294-298.
Ringmar, Martin. 2007. “Roundabouts routes: Some remarks on indirect translations”. Francis Mus, ed. Selected papers of the CETRA research seminar in translation studies 2006. Accessed April 22, 2011.
Shlesinger, Miriam. 2010. “Relay interpreting”. Gambier and van Doorslaer 2010. 276-287.
St. André, James. 2008. “Relay”. Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha, ed. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. 2nd ed. London-New York, 2008. 230-232.