Posted by: patenttranslator | June 15, 2011

Translator, Repent, The End Is Near!

A few ignorant souls may not know it, but the world will cease to exist at the end of December in 2012. It could be on December 21 or December 23, as scholars of Mayan calendar which ends by one of these dates can’t agree on the precise date, but you should not plan your wedding, divorce or even a visit with your cat to the vet beyond this date because after the doomsday date will come …. The Final And Complete Oblivion.

I personally don’t believe in the prophecies about when the world is coming to an end, whether they come from the Mayas, Nostradamus, or Pat Robertson. I think it is much more likely that humans will kill themselves on their own without any divine intervention mostly as a result of their infinite greed, which is quickly turning this earth into an environment that will soon be very uncomfortable or completely uninhabitable. I can only hope that I am wrong about this.

Translators in particular like to worry about the end of their own little world as a result of trends in the translation industry representing threats to translators. I keep reading about these trends on blogs and other meeting places of translators on the Internet. What are some of the trends and threats that translators like to worry about? How about the dominance of large translation agencies in the market who keep demanding lower and lower rates from translators, combined with the increasing use of CATs (computer assisted translation tools), which again leads to lower rates, and the widespread use of MT (machine translation), which means that human translations now must compete with free machine translations.

Do these trends represent real threats to translators or are they about as real as the end of times descending upon our world by the end of next year?

Just like the imminent Armageddon documented by scholars of Mayan civilization, these threats are real only if you think they are real. It does not really bother me if Big Bad Agencies (let’s call them BBAs) try to squeeze more work for less money from their translators because I don’t work for BBAs anymore. I used to when I was a beginner, but that was a long time ago. And I don’t understand people who complain about low rates and impossible deadlines, but continue to work for these SOBs, I mean BBAs. Maybe they continue to work for these agencies because they like being broke and miserable.

The promise of the translation memory tools was that we, translators, would be able to translate 10,000 or more words a day with these wonderful new tools and thus make much more money. What happened instead, of course, was that some agencies, large translation agencies in particular, started forcing translators who work for them to use this software, usually Trados, so that they could then demand lower rates for “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” based on the new fuzzy thinking promoted by these agencies. Some agencies even put these fuzzily matched requirements in translation contracts that they send to translators. Because the translators have no control over the discounts that translation agencies demand in this manner, they end up working more for less money. Which is one reason why I don’t use CATs. The other reasons is that although this kind of software may be useful for highly repetitive texts that are being constantly updated such as device manuals, as far as I can tell, it would be completely useless to this patent translator. I can tell where to cut and paste text sections in my patent translations, including the changes that I need to make, without new and expensive software. I can only translate about five thousand words a day by using a word processor and my brain, but that’s enough for me. Patent translation is not the only translation field in which CATs are hardly ever used – these tools are mostly useless in just about any field that requires a heavy dose of creative thinking and writing, such as literary translation for example.

But I think that the most potent fear that some translators are experiencing now is the fear that machine translation (MT) will soon put them out of business. Just about every post that I wrote on this blog about issues dealing with MT had several comments about the inevitability of an impending doom which will be brought to human translators by the courtesy of MT from commenters who said as much. Most of these commenters were not translators and the Schadenfreude (there is no English equivalent for this word as far as I know) in their comments was palpable. Perhaps they already lost a job as a result of computerization of their workplace, or perhaps that they are afraid that this will happen one day soon. Misery loves company. But there are also many translators who believe that we will all be replaced by machines one day soon.

I think it is possible that some translators will be put out of business by machines. If what you translate is not very important, quite simple and the translation does not really have to be very accurate …. well, it can be probably done by a machine. But I think that it is much more likely that the world will come to an end on December 21st or 23rd of the year 2012 than that translators who translate very complicated documents, such as patents that can cause a company major financial gains or losses, will be rendered unnecessary by machine translation any time during this century.

I have much more material with profound insight on the subject of machine translation on this blog. You can run a search in the Category or Search field on the right side on my blog, and there is also an article about machine translation that I wrote in the July issue of Translation Journal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: