recently asked myself why so many translators who are deeply engaged
with translation technology don't continue their technological
exploration and interest once they reach a certain level of expertise.
so you know, no one has ever accused me of being too subtle. So to make
sure we're all on the same page, the illustration I will be using here
is intended as a caricature, or a description in which, according to
Merriam-Webster, "certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in
order to create a comic or grotesque effect."
that spirit, let's imagine the life of a typical, successful,
"technically adept" translator. Our composite translator probably
reached this point in life through one of two paths.
one path, they receive a translation degree and -- depending on the era
and location -- attain a certain level of technological proficiency
through instruction (which will reflect the allegiances of the
corresponding professor and school). Once they've launched out "into
the wild," they apply what they have learned and continue to refine
their use of technology to their particular needs and circumstances.
When they've reached a level of competence they feel comfortable with,
they consider themselves well equipped and stop looking for
the other route, the self-trained translator looks for technology
solutions by searching the web, newsgroups, and translator portals and
by going to conferences or talking to colleagues. They find a first set
of technology that they settle on, though in the early years they
continue to change or tweak it as they learn more about the industry.
Once they've assembled a suite of tools that work for them, however,
they feel well equipped and stop looking for improvements.
won't have missed the commonality between the two: In the "end" they
feel well equipped and see no room for further improvement.
many years it's been easy to share a wide variety of opinions in
topic-oriented discussion forums, going all the way back to the
LANTRA-L list and CompuServe's Language Forum (FLEFO). Today, it's
actually hard not to express ideas through all-pervasive blogs (and
responses to blog posts), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. For
our "successful and technically adept" translator, it's even harder to
abstain: after all, good translators also have above-average writing
skills and know how to express themselves very effectively. When they
persuasively describe the technology they use as one of the
cornerstones of their success, they quickly realize that it earns them
admiration and a leadership position among their peers.
looking for improvements"
readily embrace gradual change in the technology they're already using
because they're able to integrate it quickly into their expertise
portfolio, thus retaining their position as one of the public champions
of "their" technology. But the more fundamental paradigm changes --
where the existing technology is completely replaced by something new
-- are more difficult. Really difficult, in fact. These threaten to
challenge their hard-earned status and identity as a community leader,
and might even imperil the important business opportunities that arise
from that identity.
what do they do? They uses their status to rail against the new
technology, converting the perceived identity threat into a platform
that allows them to predict doom for the community as a whole. Since
they do indeed have considerable influence, especially among less
experienced translators, their rallying cry becomes the rallying cry of
many, with the result that the natural and ever-ongoing development of
technology gets stuck.
This is a caricature. Still, if we're honest, do we not recognize a
kernel of truth in the midst of my hyperbole? And since I'm calling for
honesty, I'm very specifically not excluding myself from the same guilt.
can be done to avoid these knee-jerk responses that have the potential
to technologically stagnate an entire generation of translators? I can
think of three things.
we need to de-politicize the situation. The Oxford Dictionary defines
"politics" as "activities aimed at improving someone's status or
increasing power within an organization." If even some of my
exaggerated illustration is true, we are dealing with politics rather
than arguments based only on fact. Once we recognize the difference
between politics and fact, discussions about the future of translation
technology should become much more productive.
we might need a change of values. Expertise should be rewarded, but
only if it does not promote stagnation. By its very essence, technology
undergoes constant development. Those intrepid translators who master
today's technology while continuously exploring new possibilities --
embracing some and rejecting others -- should be rewarded with the most
prestige in the community.
and perhaps most importantly and practically, I would love to see
technology developers reach out to the language community -- and
language community leaders in particular -- to make them part of the
development process. Not only will this raise the likelihood of
creating a successful product that benefits the community, but it will
develop technology champions in the process.
of this will also appear in the ATA Chronicle and ITI