ere's a riddle for
you: What's a possession that we each wield with different degrees of
sophistication yet we all own completely? Something that we share with
millions of others, yet it's completely up to us to do with whatever we
like--and to change and mold in the process?
As translators, it's a possession that we are more
aware of than most, though everyone else also holds it, cherishes it,
and is defined by it.
The answer, of course, is language.
With every passing year I spend as a translator, I am
increasingly aware of the wondrous power that language bestows on us
individually, the awkward limitations that force us to compromise and
create, and the responsibility that we all share.
With every passing year I spend as a
translator, I am increasingly aware of the wondrous power that language
bestows on us individually.
I work primarily in the IT field, often for up-and-coming companies
that are keenly interested in branding new language. Frequently they
invest large amounts of money and effort to hone their terminology into
a sharp tool with which they hope to reach their customers. And for
their foreign language markets? That's left to you and me to find
similarly effective counterparts. As a result, most of us have been
placed in that uniquely powerful position of crafting new terms,
slogans, or even styles of language in our target languages.
That's just one way we--as well as anyone else--can be
language influencers. Again, we own our language, and we have every
right to shape it as we see fit. Sometimes our millions of "co-owners"
agree and sometimes they don't, thus suspending language in a
remarkable, ongoing, precarious balance between the rights of the
individual and those of the public.
The variety of routes to becoming influencers can be
astonishing. Here is an example that particularly tickles me: Earlier
this year (2012), Marta
Gómez Palou Allard published her very insightful and important
doctoral dissertationManaging Terminology for Translation Using
Translation Environment Tools (you can download it right here). Many Translation
Journal readers actually participated in her research by taking
part in one or both of the surveys she developed for her research. What
selfishly interests me in this context, however, is a footnote on page
18 claiming that "[t]he term 'TEnT' has appeared in the translation
technology literature, along with other competing terms, since the tool
was first conceived."
Since we own language and language forms part of our
identity, it shouldn't be surprising when the timeline of creation gets
mixed up. In fact, the term "TEnT" or "translation environment tool"
was never used before present ATA president-elect Caitilin Walsh and I
came up with it at the ATA convention of 2005, years later than
surmised by Marta. It seems that our impact on language can even work
Such power over language creation can make us feel warm
and fuzzy and important. But this fragile balance between an individual
who "proposes" a language construction and the public that then
"considers" it is in the process of being renegotiated.
About three years ago, I published an article in this
journal about the growing
prevalence of external data sources that are available to
translators, and there is no doubt that external resources have become
even more important for some translators than I first predicted. Just
look at how translation environment tools have developed over the last
two or three years. While the concept of translation memory--the
central database that stores my previously translated data--is
still an important component, so are the integrated connectors to some
of the data sources I mentioned in that article, like TAUS or MyMemory.
In addition, many tools--including memoQ, Déjà
Vu, and Trados--offer readily available machine translation
connectors to the two "biggies"-- Google Translator and the Microsoft
Bing Translator--as well as an ever-growing number of other MT
engines as well.
We can argue all day about how helpful these external
data sources are to translators, but the fact is that "big data" has
entered the translator's sanctuary. While this does not necessarily
mean that our voices will become weaker as language influencers, the
conversation may increasingly consist of a cacophony of voices, with
ours composing just one part of the whole. The others might very well
come from nameless sources that fill the big data repositories we
A horror scenario? I'm not sure. Maybe it's just a
reflection of reality. But since I've begun to ponder this, I've
returned more often to my own language sources and my own TMs and
termbases, and I've found that to be very rewarding indeed.