Professor Anthony Pym, in a paper on (linguistic) translation errors, writes:

The definition of translational competence may be used to define a translation error as a manifestation of a defect in any of the factors entering into the above skills. But such simple negation puts relatively little order into a very confused field, basically because errors may be attributed to numerous causes (lack of comprehension, inappropriateness to readership, misuse of time) and located on numerous levels (language, pragmatics, culture), but also because the terms often employed to describe such errors (over-translation, under-translation, discursive or semantic inadequacy, etc.) lack commonly agreed distinctions or fixed points of reference: “equivalence” has been used and abused so many times that it is no longer equivalent to anything, and one quickly gets lost following the wanderings of “discourse” and associated concepts.

The bolding is mine. Given this academic context, what does "time" mean? I strongly suspect it means the grammatical device related to time. An example for this would be "tense": misuse of tense or related constructs is likely a kind of translation error. I doubt this means "mismanagement of the translator's personal usge of time," which hardly counts as a translation error. Unfortunately, "misuse of time" is only mentioned as an example of translation error and the paper does not come back to clarify it. I would appreciate your input on this.

  • 1
    It's unclear, but the best guess is problems with tense or with other time-indicative features of the wording.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 13, 2019 at 21:59
  • @hotlicks I feel the same. Thank you!
    – langtechie
    Dec 13, 2019 at 22:01
  • 2
    Lack of comprehension and inappropriateness to readership seem much broader than mistakes with tense. If the third point were mistakes with tense, wouldn't you expect the first two to be similar? Misuse of gender, misuse of mood, misuse of tense. Tense mistakes also sound like a kind of lack of comprehension. That's all to say, I have no idea what "misuse of time" means, but I find the bad personal time management idea more compelling than mistakes with tense.
    – Juhasz
    Dec 13, 2019 at 22:11
  • @Juhasz Thanks for the input. If "misuse of time" means "misuse of tense or other time-related grammatical devices," it will be a mistake during the production phase of translation, whereas "lack of comprehension" is a phase of understanding the source language that precedes production. They are distinct phases: A translator can comprehend the source text perfectly well but still goes on to make a grammatical mistake regarding tense when producing the target language. Therefore I see no semantic overlap in the three examples given. Though they're not equal in breadth, no one is too narrow.
    – langtechie
    Dec 15, 2019 at 1:02
  • 2
    @Juhasz makes a telling comment. ' ... lack of comprehension, inappropriateness to readership, misuse of tenses' may be compared in a proportionality to '... poor brakes, steering problems, worn car mats'. A, B and T cf P, Q and Z. Classification errors. May 16 at 13:44

2 Answers 2


The only instance I could see "mismanagement of the translator's personal usge of time" being in any way relevant to translation errors is if he's referring to translating in real time where perhaps spending too much time perfectly translating one sentence or phrase causes an error in translating a subsequent sentence or phrase in attempting to keep up with the pace of the original speaker.

Barring this, mistakes regarding tense is the only interpretation of the two that seems logical. Perhaps he meant to expand on simply tense to include nuances of how time itself is expressed in different languages as well.

  • Exactly. I arrived at the "grammatical time" interpretation by virtue of the implausibility of "the translator's personal time."
    – langtechie
    Dec 15, 2019 at 0:50
  • It's funny but I can tell from what you say that you are not a translator or an interpreter. Also, when you say "speaker" and keeping up with them, you are in the field of interpreting, not translating. In interpreting, no one talks about "misuse of time". A speaker can speak too fast for an interpreter, but that is not a "misuse of time". It's the speaker's "fault", not the interpreter's....
    – Lambie
    May 16 at 16:22

Given this collocation: lack of comprehension, inappropriateness to readership, and misuse of time

the word time cannot refer to tense because then the other words would have to be in the same vein. And they are not. Also, a professional linguist like Pym would not use the word "time" as a synonym for tense per se.

As a professional translator myself, "misuse of time" can refer to spending too much time on some passage or wording or terms in a text so that one misses a deadline imposed by a client. And in spending too much time on this or that part of a text, one rushes with the rest of it and so one might be more likely to increase one's mistakes or smoothness of readability. This can also lead to greater fatigue. Also, it can refer to spending too much time on perfecting sentences or style in a text.

This Wikipedia article supports this idea of the terms being related to Pym's ideas focusing on the translator:

Thought and influence
Pym was one of the first to move the study of translation away from texts and towards translators as people.[15][16][17] He argued that translators are “authors” who can select the thoughts and emotions to express rather than “animators,” who merely present other's words.[15] He views the translator as working with the author to create meaning, therefore, they both contribute to the meaning of the translation[15][16][17]

According to him, the development of the translation field in the West has been essentially a "history of translation theory", a limitation that he proposed to address by focusing on the translators themselves and the contexts in which they operate.[18] [bolding and italics mine]

Anthony Pym

All three of these terms: "lack of comprehension, inappropriateness to readership, misuse of time" are all "meta" issues related to the translator.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.