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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Professional Translators: an Endangered Species

Professional Translators: an Endangered Species

By Virginie SEGARD COSTE | Published  06/29/2009 | Business of Translation and Interpreting | Recommendation:
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I could also have entitled this book “Saving Translator Human”.
Professional translators know how to define themselves. They know their values. Unfortunately, they are also aware of the imminent threats to their activity. Are they a critically endangered species just like the red wolf or the Siberian tiger?
This work is not meant to blame anyone. It is intended to raise public awareness. Recently, I thought I was writing it with the strength born of despair. However, I finally resolved to complete it because I still dare believe the flickering flame of hope is not yet dying. I wrote it so that my life makes sense again in a world stricken by what seems to be an incurable loss of any public spirit and humanity. Rushing people annoy me and make me feel ill at ease. I am scared by, or rather feel pity for, people who are no longer able – have they ever been, I wonder – to suspend the wild course of their lives for a while to inhale the pleasant fragrance of a flower in spring, contemplate a starry sky on the night of a full moon or listen to a bird’s sweet melody at dawn. Have they ever been able to I wonder? It scares me just to think about it.
This treatise is not only aimed at the professional translator but also and especially at those who threaten him. It is intended to make people outside the professional translation sphere aware of the very nature of this activity. It is also aimed at people working in the translation field who still don’t really know what a translation is, thus turning it into a mere consumer good and delivering a dull speech totally centered on performance and money. Therefore, translation becomes an instrument of profit in a cold environment of manipulation in which the professional translator is scrambling to stay afloat.

The position of professional translation

Translation is almost as old as speech and writing, and has always existed as a means of communication between people of different cultures and languages. However, translation only really became a profession during the 20th century, with intercultural exchanges increasing and communications speeding up.
The world’s largest consumer of translations is Canada, followed by Switzerland and Belgium. What these countries have in common is that they are home to at least two linguistic communities – French-speaking and English-speaking in Canada, Walloon and Flemish in Belgium, and four communities in Switzerland – German-speaking, French-speaking, Italian and Romansh. Therefore, translation is the way to build a bridge of understanding between the inhabitants of these countries. However, there are also more homogeneous linguistic communities that feel the need to communicate with other linguistic communities living in foreign countries so as to establish diplomatic trading relationships at the level of external affairs, or to exchange technical and scientific knowledge. Here again, translation plays a key role, and the highest consumers are the seven major industrialized countries forming the G7: the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Japan. The greatest demand is for European languages, with English topping the list, and followed by French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch and, more rarely, by other languages such as Russian, Arabic and Japanese. This demonstrates how crucial the part played by professional translators concerned with quality and minute detail is at this moment in history.

How do we define a professional translator?

A professional translator is both a wordsmith and a language-lover. He is a stylish communicator who selects the right words to convey the initial idea with the utmost respect for the author while considering the cultural and sociolinguistic particularities of the target language. A professional translator must also be able to demonstrate he has a very sharp eye and excellent abilities of analysis and synthesis, as well as editorial and stylistic qualities, not to mention a strong taste for research.
To stand by his values, the professional translator makes it his duty to comply with a stringent code of ethics in every respect and is absolutely free to accept the work he is offered or to decline any projects that run counter to his ethics. Thus he does not only have duties, but he also has rights that he must be able to exercise.

The professional translator’s ethics

A professional translator is basically someone who has a profound respect for himself. Therefore, he deeply respects what he does – his work. As a result, his work can be respected and he, in return, can expect signs of respect from people he is in contact with – his clients, colleagues, the professional translation community, etc.
A professional translator will never accept to translate into a language that is not his mother tongue, since he is mindful of his limitations and seeks exemplary quality and precision. He may translate in several language pairs, but always in the same direction. He transposes texts from a source language to a target language, the former being his working language and the latter, his mother tongue. Only by translating into his mother tongue will the translator be able to reproduce the idioms and the tone of the text. He knows the ropes in his mother tongue because he is passionately fond of it, because he loves his job and respects it – it is the language he is obliged to master from all angles and of which he should be the ambassador. I do not believe in perfect bilingualism. There is always a dominant language. Even though he grew up in a bilingual home, a translator remains aware that he has a dominant language despite having mastery of the other language of the pair. Moreover, unless he is a genius, he will generally limit himself to two or three language pairs.
A professional translator will refrain from starting a project in a specialization field beyond the scope of his expertise. He could, of course, merely parrot what he reads on Internet or in specialized books. This would be a fatal mistake. Nobody can pretend to intelligibly and precisely talk about a topic he has no interest in. I for one never accept to translate technical texts. I leave them to professional technical translators. My brain is not developed for these kinds of texts. Every man to his special field. A professional translator will never try to steal work from someone else. He has his favourite fields that he keeps enriching from his readings and research. Besides, a translator will never accept to translate a text that itself is a translation of the original text written in another foreign language, unless the author expressly gives him the permission to do so: this was the case when I translated a Danish website into French from the English version. In this scenario, it is imperative to be very watchful and to revise grammatically and syntactically incorrect sentences if necessary. Finally, a translator will refrain from altering or distorting the original text in any way.
A professional translator will never accept to translate more than 1,500 to 2,000 words a day since he knows that translation and production do not go hand in hand. The normal rate of work of a professional translator worthy of the name with at least five years of experience is 250 words per hour. Knowing that a translator is a human being with natural needs and that a work day of over eight hours slowly leads to depression and madness… you can do the math as well as I can. It is humanly impossible and professionally immoral to daily translate more than 2,000 new words – with no repetition that is. If a professional translator with at least five years of experience translates no more than 250 words per hour, is it necessary for me to say a novice translator will translate less? It is a must that the novice translator be trained and supervised during the first five years of his career. If not, who can tell me how he will improve? A student newly graduated from university – with a translation degree – is on the road of a race to the bottom if he thinks he can set up his own business and immediately translate as a freelancer. Not only does he make a huge mistake, but he also soils the profession and threatens the world of professional translation.
Professional translators versus the wordfiddler

Unfortunately, the professional translator is not safe from scatterbrains who believe they can just suddenly become translators overnight. A new day is dawning; I wake up and wonder how I can spend my time today. What about doing translation to supplement my income? This can be a rotten trick. The professional translator is sadly the victim of some unscrupulous “wordfiddler”, someone who takes the bread out of the professional translator’s mouth by offering his cheapjack services at derisory rates. That is how a project slipped through my fingers as I offered to translate a 109-word page of text for a lump sum of GBP20, which seemed to me totally reasonable considering a professional translator knows what he is worth and always sets a minimum rate – all the more reasonable that the text was a message from Erin Brokovitch to ordinary working people who had been exposed to asbestos and, thirty years later, were suffering from mesothelomia and lung cancer. I do not know about you, but there is no joking with me over translation, let alone with this kind of texts. Another crank prostituted himself as he accepted to do the translation for GBP5, in a slipshod way for sure, all in all just like a prostitute… I am afraid so. Translating at such rates comes down to prostituting yourself. When you come to confuse translation and prostitution, it is time for you to make a career change and let professionals do their job in peace. When lives are at stake and a translation mistake can put them in great danger, you leave the job to experts. Mere amateurs are not welcome here. Translation is a professionals’ business – period. Would you operate on a patient if you knew nothing about medicine and you had neither experience nor degrees in the field? Would you build a house if you had no idea about bricklaying? Why not respect the translator’s profession in the same way?

What distinguishes the professional translator

A wordfiddler is someone who thinks knowing a language is enough to translate. He is kidding himself. Translation requires real linguistic and language expertise. Besides his mastery of the language, the translator must be able to face other considerations such as typography rules that vary by language, spelling and style beyond reproach, consistency, rigour, adaptability, and specialized information. Through his work, not only does the translator show his linguistic qualities but also his personality.
Thus, the wordfiddler and the professional translator are worlds apart. The professional translator is a wordsmith, a creator, a sculptor. Like the jeweller, he cuts, carves and polishes. Just as the jeweller selects the best stones and the most appropriate tools, the professional translator shapes his translation like a gem. From the moment he is familiar with all translation and transfer processes and strategies, and is aware of translation pitfalls and mistakes that he learnt how to perceive and bypass, he can work independently and focus on the artistic aspect of translation. Handling his tools brilliantly, he can now produce a work of art. Only after several years of experience can you reach this stage. Only when all mechanisms are mastered can translation belong to the world of art. Just as a musician plays his piece smoothly with a sense of rhythm, the professional translator feels the musicality of the text and tries to structure it in such a way to make it flowing and original. He attempts to create a perfect harmony between content and form. However, like any professional musician, he can still strike a wrong note. As long as he maintains the rhythm, the wrong note can merge into the piece and almost go unnoticed. Although he is curious by nature, it is not possible for the professional translator to know everything. That is the reason why he tends to specialize. It all comes down to expertise. Just as a confectioner can make a delicious cake with the simplest ingredients and utensils, a translator does not need the most sophisticated tools and advanced software to deliver a high-quality translation. If he does not have the state of mind and predisposition to translate and the sensitivity of an artist, having all the translation tools available in the world will not make a professional translator of him. Before he can reach that level, a junior translator should be properly supervised to benefit from a serious and thorough training, and become aware of all faces of translation. A professional translator is humble and modest enough to hone his work carefully. He has the wisdom to always question himself so he can keep learning and continuously improve. Just like Socrates, he knows he knows nothing. That is what sets him apart from the thief, the wordfiddler. I never pretended to compare them anyway, simply because they are not comparable. Nothing binds them together. They have no affinity with each other. They are light years apart. One has the sensibility of a naturalist. The other has a heart of stone – he transcribes texts mechanically, like an upset robot. A professional translator understands the depth of language. He has a musical ear. A person who is insensible to classical music will never be a professional translator. Music and languages are part of the same universe. Music and translation are both art and science. These sciences are called musicology – the scholarly study of music, and translatology – the scholarly study of translation. Just as music theory, aesthetics and history, translation theory and rules can also be taught. When put into practice, these theories and rules turn science into art. That is what makes me say translation is a creative science. The professional translator has a gift for writing. He is not a mere transcriber – he is a writer. His translation is a complete work, not the mere reflection of the source text. It should not fade away behind the original work. Note that technical translation is to be considered separately. That is the very reason why I never accepted to do technical translation, because in technical fields, translation loses its artistic and creative touch. Only when it is a text and not a list of mechanic parts or ingredients does translation take on its full meaning and become an activity of invaluable richness that should be passionately preserved and protected against its fierce enemies.
The professional translator is a wayfaring mind, naturally curious about everything. His knowledge sphere is boundless. He is open to all areas of knowledge. He is eager to discover, having a strong taste for travel and cultures. He has a creative pen and a great deal of interest in arts. A translator without creativity is like a plant without water: he does not bloom.

Acknowledging translation as a full profession

Translation is a professional activity like any other, attested by degrees and certificates. A surgery student will never be asked to perform an open-heart surgery for a first operation. He learns progressively. He gains experience in stages, starting with relatively easy operations. For that, he needs to be closely supervised, and his progress should be monitored. The same goes for the translator. He cannot stand on his own two feet at once. He must be ready to learn from his senior colleagues. He must agree to show his ability with relatively easy documents before he can work on fairly difficult texts to finally take on challenging projects after several years of experience. Translation is still a long way from being recognized as a full profession, however. Translation agencies and clients fall into two groups. In the first one, you find those who acknowledge you as a human being and respect you as such. They offer you decent rates and set reasonable deadlines. Unfortunately, they are dwindling in numbers. The other group is the one of bloodsuckers, those offering you peanuts in exchange for your knowledge and skills. They mistake you for a sardine can with a price tag on it, displayed on supermarket shelves to be sold to consumers who will then cook it in their favourite sauce. But the professional translator knows what he is worth and does not let himself get walked all over by a pathetic bunch who believe dictionaries are all they need in order to translate.
The category of professional translators and translation in general are to be protected. The professional translator urgently needs to be recognized and respected. That is why he needs a well-defined structure barred to hacks and quacks. Although there are translator registries and directories, sadly there are also websites that specialize in translation or rather the distorted idea most people have of the translation field - a wishy-washy word factory in a race for profit. Anyone can register on these websites for free. No one will be able to check if the person actually possesses the diplomas they claim. How can I tell he is the one who takes the tests he receives as part of the translator selection process? He then gets hired, which is a disaster!
Professional translation must be legislated. The professional translator must be protected by laws, and his activity must be part of a legal framework, totally safe from shams.

How do we define a professional translation?

When you read a professional translation, you cannot actually tell it is a translation. I often start reading a book and suddenly stop to flip back to the cover page and realize I guessed right. It is indeed the clumsy French translation of an original work by a foreign author. The text is packed full of Anglicisms and written in a poor style. Verb tenses are inappropriate. In short, the whole work is very flawed and not idiomatic. It clearly sounds like a rush job. The author had his book translated by a junk dealer for next to nothing, which he is not aware of since he is not in a position to judge the quality of a language he does not know. He is not aware either that – doing so – he is losing credibility. However perfect the original work might be, its translation is far from being satisfactory. Now, the reader will not judge the original text, but rather the translation he has in front of him.
A translation can always be improved, but it will only approach perfection if it is done by someone who is sensitive to words, writing and the musicality of language. Even if the professional translator does his best to render the original text as faithfully as possible, he knows a translation is never perfect since perfection is unachievable. To all who think they are perfect: come back down to earth – nothing is perfect in this world. Any doubt? Just look around. That being said, translation must be done in such a way that the reader cannot scent it. He reads it thinking it is an original work, meaning the translator could render the content of the source text and the author’s style with the greatest objectivity. Even though any translation is etymologically a betrayal (refer to the Italian phrase “traduttore traditore”, which means “a translator is a traitor”), the professional translator will make every effort to contradict this statement. A good translation must be idiomatic and grammatically correct. The professional translator must use very specific terminology and be very familiar with the text field. In order to deliver a top-quality translation, the professional translator should possess a fine command of both languages at stake.
Furthermore, word selection and position are of utmost importance, which makes me say the professional translator has to be a native speaker of the language he translates into both for idiomatic reasons and for the sake of precision and accuracy. Dictionaries and grammar books alone are far from being enough for a good translation. Referring exclusively to these resources, you deliver a word-for-word translation that does not account for differences between target and source languages in semantics, grammar rules, choice of grammatical forms and organization of linguistic elements. The professional translator should also know and be sensitive to the culture of both countries. He must have a broad socio-cultural knowledge base to be able to fully understand and interpret the original text. He must indeed consider the cultural peculiarities of the country associated with the target language. In addition, the professional translator must try to preserve the tone of the text and never lose sight of the readership the target text – his translation – is intended for so that he writes in the appropriate style. A good translation also requires a thorough analysis and extensive research. This is why translation is the product of artisanal work and human intelligence. It is clear that no translation tool can give an accurate and exact translation. Professional translators can sleep well and rest assured – they are not likely to disappear and be replaced by translation software and programs. Are we so certain? Without any safety net or life buoy, the professional translator will die, eaten alive by unflappable sharks and vultures.

The pitfalls of technology

I personally believe technology plays an important role in translation and in the translation industry - not all kinds of technology though. For example, “translation” tools found in special sections of search engines such as Google (Language Tools), Yahoo (Babel Fish), Reverso, SYSTRANet, etc. cannot replace human translation. They are very limited in the sense that they disregard many aspects of the source text and many factors of the translation that a human brain can process and take into account in the complex translation process – style, specialization field, terminology, cultural differences, context, etc. Below is an example of automatic translation:

Chess is a game, played by two players. One player plays with the white pieces, and the other player plays with the black pieces. Each player has sixteen pieces in the beginning of the game: one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns. Les échecs sont un jeu, joué par deux joueurs. Un joueur joue avec les morceaux blancs, et l'autre joueur joue avec les morceaux noirs. Chaque joueur a des morceaux de seize dans le commencement du jeu: un roi, une reine, deux freux, deux évêques, deux chevaliers, et huit gages. Chess est un jeu joué par deux joueurs. Un joueur joue avec les pièces blanches, et l'autre joueur joue avec les pièces noires. Chaque joueur a seize pièces au début du jeu: un roi, une reine, deux tours, deux évêques, deux cavaliers, et huit pions. Le jeu d’échecs se joue à deux. L’un des joueurs joue avec les pièces blanches, l’autre, avec les pièces noires. Au début de la partie, chaque joueur dispose de seize pièces : un roi, une reine, deux tours, deux fous, deux cavaliers et huit pions.
Rook Freux Rook La tour
The rook moves in a straight line, horizontally or vertically. The rook may not jump over other pieces, that is: all squares between the square where the rook starts its move and where the rook ends its move must be empty. (As for all pieces, when the square where the rook ends his move contains a piece of the opponent, then this piece is taken. The square where the rook ends his move may not contain a piece of the player owning this rook.) Le freux se déplace une ligne droite, horizontalement ou verticalement. Le freux peut ne pas sauter par-dessus d'autres morceaux, celui est: toutes les places entre la place où le freux commence son mouvement et où le freux finit son mouvement doivent être vides. (quant à tous les morceaux, quand la place où le freux finit son mouvement contient un morceau de l'adversaire, alors ce morceau est pris. La place où le freux finit son mouvement peut ne pas contenir un morceau du joueur possédant ce freux.) La tour se déplace en ligne droite, horizontalement ou verticalement. Le tour mai de ne pas sauter par dessus les autres pièces, à savoir: toutes les places entre la place où la tour commence son déménagement et où le tour se termine son déménagement doit être vide. (Comme pour toutes les pièces, lorsque le tour de la place où se termine son déménagement contient une pièce de l'adversaire, puis cette pièce est prise. La place où le tour se termine son déménagement mai pas une pièce du joueur possédant ce tour. La tour se déplace en ligne droite, horizontalement ou verticalement. Elle ne peut pas sauter par-dessus d’autres pièces, c’est-à-dire que toutes les cases situées entre la case d’où part la tour pour réaliser son coup et celle où elle termine son coup doivent être vides. (Comme pour toutes les pièces, lorsque la case sur laquelle la tour termine son coup contient une pièce de l’adversaire, cette pièce est alors prise. La case sur laquelle la tour termine son coup ne doit contenir aucune pièce du joueur à qui appartient cette tour.)

It is interesting to study this “translation” by Google. Take the word piece for instance. In 2002, this word was translated by Google as morceau, as if it were a cube of sugar while the correct word here is pièce. A chess game is played with pièces, not morceaux, which actually sounds funny. Google “translator” simply does not have the ability to recognize the context of the document it translates. Only a human translator can do that. Google “translator” is not able to introduce and understand nuances. Only the human brain is good at it. Note that this “translation” is full of meaningless words and phrases. Among them is the translation of sixteen pieces by des morceaux de seize, which is an absolute nonsense. That should naturally be translated as seize pièces. Moreover, Google “translator” is not able to use a proper style. Further on, in the beginning of the game is translated into French as dans le commencement du jeu, which would be translated as au début de la partie in proper French. Google “translator” is quite indifferent to repetitions where French language tends to avoid them for a lighter style. Even though the text is somewhat technical, that is no reason to give up on style and accuracy.
Moving on to the second extract, the translation of rook as freux is another proof that the context of chess is totally overlooked. One possible translation of rook is actually freux, but this word would fit in a text about ornithology. In a text dealing with chess, the only correct translation is tour, one of the chessmen. The same goes – in the first extract – for bishop, which would rightly be translated as évêque in a religious context. Now, in the context of chess, this term makes you want to laugh because it is out of place and does not belong to the chessplayer’s vocabulary. The word bishop is to be translated exclusively as fou here. The words knight and pawn are also improperly translated as chevalier and gage, which could fit perfectly in a different context but must be respectively translated as cavalier and pion in our example. Anyway, a French person who intends to learn how to play chess will tear his hair in despair… and this is just one extract, but the whole translation of the website on chess with Google is pitiful.
From the table above, we may notice that automatic translation has not really made any progress in seven years. We could even say it is on the decline. Of particular note is the huge inconsistency from one paragraph to the next. In 2009, Google “translator” does not remember the French equivalent for chess. The second paragraph is totally scrappy and disjointed. The rest speaks for itself. I will leave you to your admiration of this work of art!
It should be noted that the level of the other three translation tools (Babel Fish, SYSTRANet and Reverso) is very similar.
To sum up, this automatic translation is totally unexploitable. Automatic translation programs are far from replacing human translators who should not view them as threats or competitors – there are still good times ahead. It goes without saying that if I had used Google to translate these English directions for use of an electronic chessboard into French, it would have been a tedious nonsense, and the translation could have been very detrimental to the good image of the company I translated for. I did the job using only my brain, my experience in the field and reliable, specialized reference books.
Thus, it is clear that automatic translation cannot compete with human translators who can rest assured. There would be an absolute revolution when computers can think like human beings, understand all nuances of languages and recognize the context of the document to translate. Is this what we want and is it ever conceivable?
Nevertheless, some unscrupulous clients have their texts translated by automatic translation programs, and then have the nerve to shamelessly ask professional translators to take care of the revision. That is how I lost a translation job as I dared mention how outrageous such a practice is. Just think about it. Don’t you feel this shameful practice is inexorably driving the professional translator into the ground? Don’t you understand that the client – driven by an uncontrolled lure of gain – turn to professional translators to get services of the highest quality at a rock bottom price? Is the client aware that it takes the translator much more time to try to patch things up? Does he know how contemptuous he is of the professional translator, how he runs down his work and his raison d’être? Does he understand he is the assassin of professional translation and of what makes it so exciting, its creative aspect, and its personal and unique touch? For sure not – the average client is a leech. He is just interested in making as much money as possible while enslaving the translator. Isn’t it indecent to the utmost degree to have someone translate for less than 2 cents a word? The translator’s source of income is the word. The photographer’s one is the photography. Where can you get a film processed by professionals for 2 cents per photo? Just as it is shocking to steal hours of reflection and creation from an artist by freely downloading music and movies on Internet, it is shameful to be so disdainful of the noble occupation of the translator, the beauty of writing, the creativity prevailing in professional translation.
Some people who have no education in translation whatsoever venture to translate by themselves and come a cropper for not using the services of a professional translator. Can engineers, technicians and experts in a specific area decently translate a text about their specialization field? Did they receive the very specific education a translator received? My answer to these questions is definitely no. No one can just suddenly become a translator for translation is a demanding profession requiring specific skills and maximum concentration. However, a translator can gain technical or specialized knowledge of certain fields by regularly gather information on the subjects. Ideally, the translator will possess a degree in a discipline other than translation. It is generally with practice and translation experience in certain fields to which he preferably confines himself that a professional translator will take the specialized and technical vocabulary in. A translator can work in several similar specialization fields and still deliver a high-quality professional result. I am not sure though that a technician – although he has his field at his fingertips – can deliver a quality translation, for the exact same reasons I gave earlier on.
Only if he is aware of these realities will a client be ready to offer decent rates and set acceptable deadlines, and to simply recognize the translator’s true value and respect his dignity. This category of clients – unfortunately vanishing like lightning – understands the activity of the professional translator and provides him with resources such as an explanatory pamphlet, diagrams, notes or other documents to help him with his terminology search and enlighten him on technical terms.
We mentioned the danger posed by technology. However, computer-assisted translation (CAT) programs such as Trados, Déjà Vu, Wordfast, etc. can be very useful to the professional translator since they increase performance as the translator can retrieve the target language sentences that have already been translated and are stored in a translation memory. Also, online dictionaries like Termium, Le grand dictionnaire terminologique, Eurodicautom – the European Commission’s multilingual lexicographical database, and other online general and specialized dictionaries are useful aids for the professional translator. Internet is also very helpful for terminology research. All these tools are available to the professional translator who is solely responsible for evaluating the results and questioning their appropriateness for the context since these tools are unfortunately not 100% reliable. As the name indicates, they are only aids. Technology is therefore supporting the translator. The human brain is far too complex to be reproduced in a machine. Software, tools and machines are only useful complements in the translation process. As a self-respecting professional translator, I am therefore very cautious when using these tools. The role of the translator starts where the one of technology ends. I mean to say that technology is limited, so the human brain fills the gaps and makes up for the imperfections of the various programs available to him. Translation is a creative task, and only humans can be creative.

What can we do to protect professional translators?

On the aforementioned translation websites, you can read blatantly absurd messages and statements each more cranky than the other. Before reading the following example, which is sadly just one example among many others, make sure you are well settled not to fall off your chair and fasten your seat belt. A crank pretends he can translate 7,500 words in eight hours. It is got to be one thing or the other: he is either an extraterrestrial being with a superpowerful chip in his brain or he translates texts just as he would take the trash out on the sidewalk. Anyway, I would like to see the final product… gobbledygook for sure! The icing on the cake is that most clients cannot make any difference between these funky stews and a topnotch professional translation.
That is how professional translators are unfortunately the victims of a world that is sadly ruled by money and productivity – a drifting world. I am one of those who are not resigned to become enslaved to such a world by playing into the hands of companies tirelessly trying to get the lowest rates while expecting top quality for projects given insane deadlines. Translation is on its way to automation. The professional translator is dehumanized. He is dying. The time has come to rescue him, restore his dignity and help translation regain its glory.
Bringing down translation to a profit tool, proletarianizing translators and the world of translation is just breaking the harmony of the silent nature. What I mean to say is the professional translator takes time to find the right word. He is jubilant about finding the perfect concord. For him, it is the sound of music. He is in harmony with himself, fighting to stop his detractors from breaking this precious harmony. Those who have no literary talent would do well to keep quiet. Proletarianizing the translator inevitably comes down to destroying the natural and essential creativity of the artisan he must be. It means turning translation into a product crammed with additives and artificial colorings. So many times I have heard the saying “what is bred in the bones comes out in the flesh”. I wish it was not true about translation. I wish the artificial atmosphere created by an overabundance of translation tools could go away so that natural translation comes back to life, stamped with creativity and genuineness, and the personality and unique style of its author – the professional translator.
There are campaigns for the protection of endangered animal species. Professional translators are an endangered human species. Why shouldn’t they be protected as well? This article invites all professional translators to make people around them aware of this serious problem and urges translation swindlers to stop the carnage.
It is just a matter of raising awareness of the true values of translation so that it takes back on its full meaning. Return to roots. Curb the insane race for money, performance and productivity. It is urgent to realize the risks behind this way of behaving that pushes people to the limit, giving way to tragedy – depression and suicide. It is time to act as human beings again to avoid international robotization. The world is losing its poetry. Let’s save it! Translation is part of the literary world. It is an art. Let’s fight together so that it does not swing over into the world of automation.


If this project of saving professional translators and the world of professional translation at large seems unreasonable, real progress is said to be resulting from the actions of unreasonable men and women. Our hopes could not be higher then. A word to the wise.

© Virginie Ségard, 2009.

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