Emotion for Successful Translation

Let’s start with an exercise…

What do you feel when you read this short passage?

“You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.”


-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Do you feel melancholy? Sad? Scared? Or even indifferent?

Humans are empathetic beings, relating to emotions through texts. However, not everyone feels the same emotion from the same text. As each individual with various experiences and backgrounds, what everyone feels from one single text are infinite.

So how do translators translate the infinite possibilities of emotion?

Translation and Emotion

Not everything about the relationship between translation and emotion is answered at the current stage. In fact, maybe the relationship can never be truly defined.

However, I believe that examining the process of how translators deal with emotion during translation is something too important to ignore.

Emotion can both motivate translators but also cause great harm towards them at the same time. And processing emotion will differ according to each translator, leaving some sort of personal emotional expression within the translation.

  • Emotion perception
  • Emotion regulation
  • Emotion expression

These three steps are the three components of emotional intelligence. Indicating that a person with high emotional intelligence is capable of processing his or her emotions within these three components.

Now let’s go through each progress to determine how translators regulate emotion to bring out the most potential into their work.

Emotion perception

Emotion perception is a process where an individual is able to decode their own and other people’s emotions, allowing them to prepare themselves for the proper behavioral response.

Translators will often use their own experiences to understand what sort of emotions are embedded within the text. As a result, the translators are often required to completely open themselves to their own and other people’s emotions, borrowing those emotional states and incorporating them into their translation. Therefore, emotion in translation will always be influenced by an external force other than the source text.

Emotion regulation

Emotion regulation is a process where an individual will modify their emotional experiences to produce appropriate responses towards certain situations.

When sharing positive emotions the receivers will have increased positive emotion while the same thing can occur with negative emotions. Translators are receivers of such emotions which affects their work either negatively or positively.

Therefore, to not trigger such negative effects, translators must find ways to regulate their emotions they have received from the source texts. The emotional regulation differs according to each translator and the ability to regulate emotion can be gained through experience. Emotional regulation can be as simple as talking to someone close to you or taking a short walk around the park.

Emotion expression

Emotion expression is a process where an individual will communicate their emotional experience either verbally or non-verbally.

Translators are in certain ways doing expressive writing when translating. Even though the material they are translating is not their own emotions or experiences, the translated texts will in some way have some emotional expression from the translator, though not as obvious.

However, translators should be conscious of creating a well-balanced emotional investment. If too emotionally invested then it can be counterproductive, causing unnecessarily labor on the translator. If too emotionally absent, then the work will likely also be void of emotion.


Emotion and translation will always remain in a relationship defined as “it’s complicated”.

But it might make things easier if you process them within those three steps.

And you should never ignore the effects of emotion during translation because it may cause great consequences for yourself and your work.

Please tell us how you process your emotions either during translation or in any other situation.Any opinions? Again, please leave a comment below.


Translation and Emotion: A Psychological Perspective | Séverine Hubscher-Davidson




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