Translation agency coordinators and project managers who send mass mailings to multiple translators sometime have a minor problem with the greeting line in the beginning of their e-mails.
Normally, when a translation agency person sends an e-mail to a translator such as myself, the e-mail will start with “Dear Steve”, or “Dear Mr. Vitek”.
If it is a real e-mail, (as opposed to mass e-mail, a close relative of spam), in English, Japanese, French, or German, it will generally have my name in it (always the last name if it comes from a polite continent such as Europe or Asia, while first name is usually reserved for lowly peons such as translators, chamber maids or dog catchers if the e-mail originates in North America.
But whether the first name or last name should be used is not really what I want to write about in my post today. What I am more interested in is the fact that agency coordinators do not have the time to spell out the name in every single e-mail when they are sending the same inquiry about availability for a job to be done “at your best price” to a dozen translators.
This is quite understandable because each name change would take about 2 seconds, which means that the translation coordinators would need to waste about 24 seconds only to change the name for each of the translators, and then they would still have to waste even more time dispatching each individual e-mail into the Internet so that these mass e-mails would not look like what they are, namely a close relative of spam.
We translators totally understand that it would be unreasonable to expect project managers who have so little time to unnecessarily waste so much time in this manner.
Mass e-mails are so much more efficient compared to the way things used to be done before! In Translation Industry version 1.0, and I am talking nineteen eighties, somebody would actually call and chitchat with me a bit first before mentioning that an actual job needs to be done.
That was definitely very inefficient use of human resources and something needed to be done about it.
In Translation Industry version 2.0, which would be nineteen nineties, I generally knew that the e-mail that was sent to me was in fact sent only to me and nobody else. Somebody had a translation that was meant for myself and nobody else, should I be interested in doing it.
In Translation Industry version 3.0, by which I mean now, the same e-mail is often sent to a whole bunch of hungry, hungry translators to watch them squirm while trying to underbid each other. This is so much more efficient! It will be the early bird who will catch the worm, just like the proverb says in a number of languages, provided that the early hungry bird charges less than all the other hungry birds.
One agency coordinator said to me once, when I dared to I suggest to her that I don’t appreciate this method very much because it looks like throwing a bone to a pack of hungry dogs, that she likes to work with “first responders” in this manner. I’m afraid I told her to remove me from her list of first responders because I would no longer respond to anything originating from this particular source.
Apparently it’s not just firefighters and paramedics who are expected to be first responders these days.
I know for sure that I am dealing with a mass e-mail, a close relative of spam, when instead of being politely addressed in the greeting line by my last name with the prefix Mr., Monsieur, or Herr, or the suffix 様(sama), or even by my first name, which is still fine with me, I am addressed as a “Dear Linguist”, or “Dear Linguists”.
“Who the hell are you calling dear linguist?” I am thinking to myself every time when I read this newly invented salutation.
There are at least two main definitions of what the word “linguist” means:
1. somebody who speaks fluently several languages,
2. a specialist in linguistics, the study of the nature, rules and changes in a language or languages.
I find it somewhat surprising that whether you belong to category 1 or category 2 depends mostly on your native language.
If you are for example a Mongolian linguist, you would be naturally expected to speak a few more languages, probably Chinese and Russian, perhaps even English, not just Mongolian. I doubt that there are many specialists in linguistics at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences who know only Mongolian.
The same is true probably about most linguists in most other countries as well. If you are for example a Dutch linguist, you would be again likely expected to speak a few other languages in addition to Dutch, probably German and English, possibly also French, as a professor teaching the science called linguistics at a university in Holland. I think that you could be still called a linguist if you are for example a Japanese specialist in the Ainu language, which is the language of original inhabitants of Japan who are now mostly extinct. But I doubt that people would call you a linguist in Japan if you spoke only Japanese.
But if your native language is English, you can still be called a linguist even if you can’t speak any other language.
I know this because when I was having a dinner at a restaurant last year with a group of friends and acquaintances, a lady who was sitting across the table from me (at a long table for a group of people) told me that she was teaching linguistics at a local College. So I asked her what languages she knew as I was hoping that we might perhaps share an interest in the same languages.
But it turned out that she really only spoke English, although she did know a few words in French. So she belonged to the 2. category of what the word linguist means, which probably exists only in a few countries.
It may be that translation agencies started using the friendly greeting “Dear Linguists” to make up for the fact that they don’t use names in a mass mailing. They may even think that they are somehow ingratiating themselves to translators, and that “linguist” sounds better than other names they like to call us. Names like “vendors”, or just “All” (as in “Dear All”). Although “Dear All” is still acceptable, “Dear Vendors” would sound really stupid.
But why don’t they call us translators, since that is what we are, I wonder?
Personally, I much prefer the term translator. As I have pointed out above, just about anybody can be a linguist as you don’t necessarily need to even know another language depending on the country where you live and the language that you speak.
I bet cloud workers, who are being groomed by a segment of the “translation industry” to completely replace translators one day soon, perhaps in Translation Industry Version 4.0, are also called “Dear Linguists” in mass e-mails from translation agency project managers. The main difference here is probably that these mass e-mails are sent to hundreds or thousands of cloud workers instead of just to a dozen translators.
And unlike myself and perhaps some other translators, cloud workers might even appreciate being called “Dear Linguists”. After all, “Dear Cloud Workers” would sound really stupid, even more so than “Dear Vendors”. Plus who knows whether cloud workers still have names these days. Maybe all they have is numbers like political prisoners in the gulags in the former Soviet Union, in which case it would be difficult to call them anything in mass e-mails.
Just imagine that translation agency project managers would have to call their translation specialists who happen to be cloud workers “Dear 21,001 ~ 21,999″. Now that would sound really stupid. “Dear Linguists” is definitely the way to go when one needs to address masses of cloud workers who are tirelessly working on demanding linguistic tasks such as post-processing of machine-translated documents, which in some respects may not be that different from the work that political prisoners in the former Soviet Union used to do.
Cloud workers are probably paid about the same as what gulag inmates used to make, which is to say nothing or next to nothing, but unlike gulag inmates, they don’t have to live in miserable camps in extremely cold Siberian climate.
It is probably not that bad being a cloud worker. You can pretty much pick the climate where you want to live, you are free to wear civilian clothes, you are not surrounded by watch towers with barbed wire and armed guards, and you may even be called “Dear Linguist” in e-mails from translation agencies.