What’s Special about Specialised Translation?

Essays in Honour of Federica Scarpa

by Giuseppe Palumbo (Volume editor) Katia Peruzzo (Volume editor) Gianluca Pontrandolfo (Volume editor)
Edited Collection VI, 298 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 300


This volume honours Federica Scarpa, a prominent figure in Translation Studies who has made a major contribution to defining, describing and researching specialised translation. In her body of research, Scarpa has successfully combined insights from a variety of approaches, from functional theories to the cultural turn and, more recently, profession-related aspects. Her approach to the study of specialised translation considers multiple dimensions (discoursal, pragmatic and service-related) and builds an organic model capable of accommodating context-based quality criteria and advances in technology. The chapters collected in the volume develop some of Scarpa’s ideas and have been authored by scholars and professionals who have established a direct dialogue with Scarpa or benefited from her insights.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Federica Scarpa’s research on specialised translation: Notes on, and sketches from, a “special” career (Giuseppe Palumbo, Katia Peruzzo, Gianluca Pontrandolfo)
  • “Unfaithful to the translation” (Borges): On special in specialised translation (Maria Teresa Musacchio)
  • Specialised translator wanted: But does it pay? (David Katan)
  • Using corpora in specialised translation education (Sara Laviosa)
  • Connecting the dots in specialised translator training (Catherine Way)
  • The legal translation profession – A nexus (Juliette Scott)
  • The legal translator and Directive 2010/64/EU (Daniela Amodeo Perillo)
  • On the (un)translatability of legal texts: Can technology help in harmonizing inequivalences in different legal concepts and terms? (Frieda Steurs)
  • Using technology to investigate thematic competence in specialised translation: A follow-up (Carla Quinci)
  • Triage and technology in healthcare translation (Anthony Pym)
  • Notes on Contributors

←v | vi→ ←0 | 1→

Giuseppe Palumbo, Katia Peruzzo, Gianluca Pontrandolfo1

Federica Scarpa’s research on specialised translation: Notes on, and sketches from, a “special” career

The chapter provides an outline of the main themes in Federica Scarpa’s body of research on specialised translation. Firmly and lucidly rooted in the empirical/descriptive paradigm of translation studies, Scarpa’s research can be seen as an attempt at identifying and describing the “core” features of specialised translation. Her general approach is characterised as resting on three pillars: the value of (self-)reflection, the dialogue between translation research and professional translation practice, and a strong belief in the potential and effectiveness of training. The chapter lists some highlights in Scarpa’s career at the University of Trieste in her organizational and research roles, and also provides details on her work on the specific domain of legal translation.

Keywords:specialised translationtranslator trainingtranslation qualitylegal translation

1. A short summary of a long career

This volume honours Professor Federica Scarpa on the occasion of her retirement after a career in academia spanning four decades. Coming from a background in literary studies – she graduated in English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Modern Languages of the University of Udine with a final dissertation on the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott – Federica Scarpa received in 1989 an M.Phil in ←1 | 2→Linguistics from Trinity College Dublin (Centre for Languages and Communication Studies) with a final dissertation on error analysis in Second Language Acquisition. After being recruited in 1984 to teach Translation from English into Italian and English Language and Linguistics at the Scuola Superiore di Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori (SSLMIT) of the University of Trieste, in 1989–90 she served as the Italian Language Specialist at Dublin-based Microsoft International Product Group, where she was in charge of organizing and coordinating the localization of all Microsoft products aimed at the Italian market. At the SSLMIT, she became Associate Professor in 1993 and, in 2005, Full Professor of English Language and Translation. The final years of her career (from 2011 to 2023) were served in the newly formed Department of Legal, Language, Interpreting and Translation Studies (IUSLIT).

In the course of her career, Federica Scarpa held several institutional leadership roles. From 2007 to 2011 she was the Director of the Department of Language, Interpreting and Translation Studies (DSLIT) and from 2011 to 2012 Deputy-Director of IUSLIT. From 2009 to 2016 she was the coordinator of the PhD course in Interpreting and Translation Studies. In 2012–13, 2014–15 and 2020–21 she was also the Director of the post-MA Master programme in Legal Translation at IUSLIT. From 2012 to 2015 she acted as the elected Representative for the area of Antiquity, Philology, Literature and History of Art in the Senate of the University of Trieste. From 2009 to 2013 she was the Delegate for the SSLMIT in the European Master’s in Translation (EMT). At international level, she was also the Contact Person for the University of Trieste in the European project “OPTIMALE” (“Optimising Professional Translator Training in a Multilingual Europe”, 177295-LLP-1-2010-1- FR-ERASMUS-ENWA; 2010–2013) and the Coordinator of Workstream 3 on “Training” in the European project “QUALETRA” (“Quality in Legal Translation”, JUST/2011/JPEN/AG/2975; 2012–2014). She was also the scientific coordinator of a project aimed at building a multilingual terminological database in the field of transport (funded in 2009–11 by the Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia) and, in 2012–2014, a project on the translation into English of the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure, funded by the University of Trieste and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio of Trieste.

←2 | 3→Federica Scarpa was also involved in a number of editorial activities. In particular, from 1996 to 2002 she was editor-in-chief of the Rivista Internazionale di Tecnica della Traduzione/International Journal of Translation.

2. Researching specialised translation

In her writing and research, Federica Scarpa has always had one overriding interest: identifying and describing the specific, core aspects of specialised translation, or what sets it apart from both other forms of translation and other situations of language use or intercultural communication. Her aim has always been that of using research on translation to improve the way translation is taught, with trainees (and trainers) always remaining her primary audience. Her approach to the study and teaching of specialised translation (both as a product and as a process, or professional practice) can be seen to rest on three pillars:

  1. 1. the value of reflection (including self-reflection): all translators become theorists whenever they engage in discussion, with themselves or others, about which translation solution is the more appropriate for the text and task at hand. This idea is discussed at length by Scarpa only once (in 2008b: 91) but it is no doubt a foundational theme of all her work. Self-reflection has another added benefit (Scarpa 2020: 114): by engaging in it, students learn to “talk like a translator” (Robinson 2003: 135), a skill that gives them more credibility in the eyes of commissioners and helps them in arguing their translation choices more convincingly.
  2. 2. the need for an ongoing dialogue between theory and practice: translation is always a situated activity and therefore it is impossible to describe and investigate specialised translation without reference to the contexts and settings in which it is carried out and the actors involved. Further, in Scarpa’s (2020: 115) own words, “a collaboration between the ←3 | 4→‘theoretical’ and ‘practical’ worlds of translation is the only way to enhance both the status of translation as an academic discipline and that of the translator in society”.
  3. 3. a strong belief in the potential and effectiveness of training: this is the assumption that training can provide translators with the necessary competences and skills for tackling the translation of specialised texts in any domain. Knowledge of how specialised languages work and what the expectations of discourse communities in different languages are is a precondition for effective translation. And where the subject matter is too specialised and they struggle to understand the source materials, translators must be taught how to ask for support from specialists, as part of their teamwork skills.2

The even more fundamental assumption of her approach is the belief in the possibility to transfer specialised knowledge across languages based on a model that combines methods of knowledge representation and insights from Hallidayan/Sinclairian linguistics. The methods of knowledge representation are essentially derived from the research on terminology and languages for special purposes (LSPs) as initiated – in the Wüsterian tradition – in Northern Europe and then re-elaborated on by scholars and researchers in France, Spain and Italy – Federica Scarpa herself featuring prominently among them. The publication of Manuale di terminologia (Magris et al. 2001), which Scarpa edited and contributed to with other colleagues from the then School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, was a landmark step in the dissemination of this approach to teaching and researching specialised language. In this approach, which Scarpa ←4 | 5→would faithfully adhere to in all her publications since, the more dogmatic tenets and assumptions of the Wüsterian view of terminology were tempered by the adoption of an essentially Hallidayan/Sinclairian perspective on language that emphasises usage and function. Thanks to this combination, the rigidity of the exclusively terminological approach, its insistence on the drawing of well-defined conceptual maps to be super-imposed across languages in search of terminological consistency, is attenuated by the recognition that languages are governed by specific mechanisms acting at the level of lexico-grammar and interacting with social and cultural factors.

This combination (“terminology + language usage”) is the particular double lens through which specialised translation can be described, but the most important ingredient in the mix is the practice of translation. In other words, while specialised knowledge is the subject of the communication and language is the tool for communication, translation becomes a particular mode of communication. In the words of Scarpa (2020: viii) herself, translation is

a linguistic reformulation and a social/cultural mediation that is oriented towards one or more communicative aims and has the main objective of making it possible for members of different languages (who would otherwise have no chance to do so) to communicate with each other.

Seen from this perspective, a theory of translation is the description of the relations between language patterns observed across languages, the translators using them and the socio-cultural contexts in which the patterns are, or can be, used. The link to practice also emphasises a view of translation competence as essentially the ability to solve (communication) problems and engage in decisions on how best to reformulate something in the target language. Scarpa fully embraces Anthony Pym’s (1991, 2003) definition of translation competence when she presents translation as “the reformulation of a text written in language A into another text written in language B after establishing a hierarchy of possible different translation solutions and choosing the most suitable to a specific translation brief” (Scarpa 2008b: 87). The perspective briefly outlined here has some significant and specific consequences on the way Scarpa has approached the study and teaching of specialised translation. These are illustrated below.


VI, 298
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (May)
Federica Scarpa Specialised translation studies Researches on translation studies
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. VI, 292 pp., 40 fig. b/w, 12 tables.

Biographical notes

Giuseppe Palumbo (Volume editor) Katia Peruzzo (Volume editor) Gianluca Pontrandolfo (Volume editor)

Giuseppe Palumbo teaches and researches English language and translation at the University of Trieste, Italy. His areas of interest include translation technology, terminology, lexicography and corpus-based analyses of English. Katia Peruzzo researches and teaches English language and translation at the University of Trieste, Italy. Her research interests are in corpus linguistics and terminology, with her publications mainly focusing on legal translation, English and Italian legal terminology, knowledge mediation and popularization. Gianluca Pontrandolfo teaches and researches Spanish language and translation at the University of Trieste, Italy. His areas of interest include legal linguistics and translation, corpus-based analyses of specialised genres, corpus-assisted (critical) discourse analysis.


Title: What’s Special about Specialised Translation?