Why Translators Should Avoid Labels


Some people like to label themselves as glass half empty types, others as glass half full. I always thought that was a silly question. The glass is obviously 100% full: half liquid, half air. I was recently reading something online about “creative people” and the author said “creative people” are glass 100% full types and I thought, “bummer, they just had to go stick a label on my logic!”

I’ve always felt somewhat uncomfortable with labels. When we stick labels on something, we seem to be assuming that it won’t change… EVER! The object being labeled will always be perceived as what the label says it is. So sticking a label on a jar of strawberry sauce makes sense if you don’t plan on ever changing the contents of the jar; but sticking a label on a person is just counterintuitive. Human beings are constantly changing and evolving, even when we can’t perceive our own changes.

It seems to me most of us interact with others in a lot of different settings. I interact as a professor, as a translator, as a lawyer, as a runner, as a person you can stick a bunch of different labels on, but all these things are circumstantial. I’m all of these things and none at the same time. And the ones that are applicable to me today may not be so five years down the line. None of these labels define the inner me nor determine what I can and cannot do or accomplish.

In a paper in the June, 2014 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Yeager, Rebecca Johnson, Brian Spitzer, Kali Trzesniewski, Joseph Powers, and Carol Dweck analyzed simple correlations between beliefs and stress in high-school students over the course of a school year and found that the more participants believed that personality can change, the less affected they were by being excluded during certain activities involved in the experiment. In addition, the more students believed that others are capable of change, the lower their stress, the better their health, and the higher their grades at the end of the year.

Granted, translators are not high school students; but a lot of them are pretty fond of labels, and those that are might want to ask themselves if all this labeling is really doing them any good. While the study I described above focuses on teenagers and academic performance, these findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence amassed by Carol Dweck and her team which seem to demonstrate that the belief that people can change has many benefits when dealing with difficulties, stress, and even social isolation -something translators are all too familiar with. So the next time you stick a label on yourself or accept a label someone else stuck on you, ask yourself if labeling really pays off. And if you don’t like the label, remember, you can always change it or toss it out altogether.

8 thoughts on “Why Translators Should Avoid Labels

  1. Mario Chávez says:

    The author writes “translators are not high school students; but a lot of them are pretty fond of labels, and those that are might want to ask themselves if all this labeling is really doing them any good.” That’s a sweeping generalization; where’s the data showing that ‘a lot of [translators] are pretty fond of labels’?

    Isn’t that last statement negating the reasoning method used by the author at the beginning, with quoted studies and results? If the author is just saying that many translators she has met use labels, the best we can do is to call it for what it is: hearsay, anecdotal evidence, subjective impressions.


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