A term very much in vogue today is “the knowledge economy”. This is a term that is justifiably considered vague and nebulous. Questions abound. What exactly is a knowledge economy? There seems to be no clear definition. What are the sectors a knowledge economy is composed of? Why the overwhelming allure of the knowledge economy? Why are sweeping statements made today that the economy of the world today is moving towards a knowledge-based economy?
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And a question closer to our hearts as language service providers: Are language services part of the knowledge economy? Does it matter if they are considered part of it or outside it?
One definition of the knowledge economy, taken from today’s overwhelmingly popular web knowledge resource, wikipedia, defines the knowledge economy as the use of knowledge technologies (such as knowledge engineering and knowledge management) to produce economic benefits.
Clearly, it is important for language services to be classified and advertised as a part, nay a critical and indispensable part, of the knowledge economy for three reasons:
a) Language services ARE an integral part of today’s knowledge economy. The wheels of globalization, itself predicated on a knowledge economy, would grind to a halt without language services.
b) Language services are not accorded the recognition they deserve in today’s comprehensive march towards globalization. Being classified as a component of the knowledge economy will confer on them the status they truly deserve.
c) Payment for language services is not commensurate with the benefits they bring to the world economy. Once they get due recognition, pay scales will be revised accordingly by market forces.
No one can argue that language services such as translation or interpretation do not produce economic benefits. What has to be driven home is the magnitude of economic benefits produced.
i) While language services produce no tangible products or sales (apart from the language services sold themselves), the intangible effects of localization on product sales are substantial.
ii) Language services also enhance global collaboration, nay, are the very factor that make it possible . Ask any two multinational companies what underpins their process of collaboration. The answer: a Memorandum of Understanding or some sort of Legal Agreement drawn up in the languages of the countries of the participating companies. So language services are required for global collaboration to even be initiated. And that global collaboration produces economic benefits is a fact.
It is therefore, indisputable that language services are a knowledge technology and that they produce considerable intangible economic benefits that are critical to the production of a host of tangible economic benefits.
That being established, we as language service providers, can go a step further, and claim that language services are the very bedrock of the knowledge economy. However, what is it that makes language services stand out as a special knowledge-based service? There exist today many knowledge-based technologies, such as information technology, software engineering, artificial intelligence technologies, cognitive sciences, etc. Why are language services unique?
An analogy with a natural phenomenon can drive home the point. Just as the light of the sun is the very essence of the sun’s ability to illumine, language is the very essence of all knowledge. Just as the light of the sun illumines all objects in the solar system, language is used to describe all known phenomena in our known universe, and therefore forms the very backbone of all human knowledge. While knowledge is domain-specific, language is meta-knowledge. Language services are hence very special, since no knowledge is possible without language.
Language services will thus form the very bedrock of the global knowledge economy going forward. It is time language services are accorded their rightful place in the global economy. In terms of recognition. In terms of stature. And yes, in terms of remuneration.