Posted by: patenttranslator | September 24, 2011

What Is an “LSP” (Other Than a Misnomer)?

What is an LSP? When I saw the term “an LSP” for the first time about a year ago on a translator’s blog, I did not know what it meant. Most people who read this blog will probably know that “an LSP” means a Language Service Provider, but that it is because most people who somehow end up on this blog are translators. Not many non-translators (or non-LSPers?) know what this English abbreviation means.

When I Googled LSP,  I got back a lot of interesting suggestions, such as Louisiana State Police, Latino Studies Program, Liskov Substitution Principle (whatever that means), Landowner Stewardship Program (whatever that means!), Legal Services Program (that sounds like a scam), Life Sciences Partner (an equity fund), Label Switched Path (that sounds like patentese, ergo it must be patentese)  … even a Lunar Soil Propellant (I am not even going to try to guess what it could mean), but nowhere in the first 10 (ten!) pages of helpful suggestions from Google was I able to discover that LSP can also mean a Language Service Provider. A website that explains what different abbreviations mean lists 35 possible meanings of the abbreviation LSP at, but Language Service Provider is not listed.

LSPs used to be and sometime still are called translation agencies, which is a term that anybody can understand. But for some reasons, translation agencies do not want to be called that anymore. They started calling themselves LSPs and many if not most translators started imitating them and dutifully call them now LSPs too, possibly to demonstrate to the yet uninitiated public that they too belong to the club of insiders who are well versed in the professional lingo of the brave new translation industry.

I wonder, who was it who came up first with this abbreviation? I can only speculate why the industry started replacing the word “agency” with the abbreviation “LSP”. I think it was probably because “agency” sounds like a mediator, a facilitator, a broker, which is of course what they are, rather than a creator. A language service provider does not really provide the service in this case, it is the freelance translator or interpreter who provides the service, the LSP buys and then the sells the service for a profit. So the new term was probably designed to obscure the reality, sort of like when the Blackwater Corporation changed its name to “Xe” (which is pronounced “zee” in English but differently in other languages).

One of the problems with the English language is that people who speak it for some reason seem to really like abbreviations and acronyms a lot, even when there is no reason not to say the whole word or all the words so that everybody would know what the term means. For instance, a gynecologist is called an OB/GyN in English (sometime without the slash), which I find kind of strange. Why not use real words in English? Don’t we have enough words in the English Language? There are 171,476 “full word” entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Why not use these or other words instead of abbreviations that only a few people will understand? The Japanese word for gynecology 婦人科医 (fujinkai)  has all the characters  that one needs to understand what the word means (fu = woman, jin = person, ka = science, i = medicine). Now that’s a language that makes sense to me. Most European languages use some variant of “gynecologist” which preserves the Greek words “gyne” = woman and “logos” = word, which must mean that a gynecologist is somebody who likes to talk about women a lot. But English is a language that likes to throw nonsensical or ambiguous abbreviations at people. And don’t get me started with other newfangled abbreviations, such as LGBT (which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender for those who don’t know).

But let’s get back to LSPs. In my opinion, it make sense to use abbreviations for technical terms that are simply too damn long. For example, everybody knows now what a USB port is, although not that many people probably remember that “USB” stands for “Universal Serial Bus”. The same thing could be said about sort of ugly but really useful acronyms or abbreviations such as Hi-Fi, Hi-Def, or URL.

But why use an abbreviation that nobody who does not in fact work in the industry understands, unless you are trying to hide something, or unless you are pretending that you are something that you are not, namely a “provider” (as in “Language Service Provider”).


  1. Hi Steve,
    I read your post with interest.
    Here’s the bad news — well, some news, anyway: you’ve *all* got it wrong as far as I know.
    I first heard “LSP” as part of the negotiations surrounding work on European standard for translation services. The initiative for that had come from translation agencies. (And yes, I call them agencies — all of them — having noticed regularly that they themselves don’t manage consistent use of the distinction between “translation agency” and “translation company” (external network vs in-house team, I’ve been told). Whatever.)
    I wasn’t directly involved in the European standard negotiations, but translator associations were on hand representing freelancers and they balked at the initiators’ attempts to use “agency” (or company) every single time a supplier was mentioned, as this would have (implicitly in some places, explicitly in others) restricted compliance with the standard (and thus access to those markets) to agencies.
    These negotiators — quite rightly, in my opinion — insisted that the supplier could be either an agency or a freelancer. So LSP was adopted to cover those two categories.
    That translation agencies and people who should know better (Common Sense Advisory being a prime example) now *regularly* confuse everything by, e.g., surveys asking respondents to identify themselves as “LSP” *or* “freelance” is ridiculous. It’s sloppy and lazy and inaccurate (not cool for would-be “word” people).
    I’m not big on acronyms myself, but I do take every opportunity to remind whoever happens to be listening or reading that LSP is a generic term encompassing agencies and freelancers. (Like “fruit” includes apples, oranges and pineapples). And I’m happy to do that again right here on your blog.


    • In this instant, I believe that the blame lies with Google. This is so because you used their search results to form the basis of this criticism. I feel that you would benefit more from using a site like if you want more specific, specialised searches, especially when acronyms are involved. Hope this helps.


      • Hi David,

        I looked at the termwiki site and it looks like a really useful search engine for this kind of purpose.

        But the point of my post was that the term LSP is an abbreviation that is used only by some translators and “LSPers” for lack of a better term, not really something that has been accepted as a legitimate word by the general public.

        That is why when I Googled LSP, I got back “Louisiana State Police” and “Louisiana State Penitentiary” because those terms are among descriptions of this abbreviation that have been accepted by the general public (and hence also by Google).


  2. Hi Chris:

    Good to hear from you again and thanks for your explanation.

    I don’t think I got it wrong at all, but that’s neither here nor there. As far as I can tell, the term LSP is interchangeable with the word translation agency now, whatever its origin. And when translators use the abbreviation, for instance on blogs, they do not refer to other freelance translators unless it is a translator who is also an agency, which would be my case, for example. So the term LSP might have originally also included freelancers but it only means agencies now as far as I know.

    I enjoy your column “Fire Ant and Worker Bee” on Translation Journal (if it is still written by you and the other guy). Too bad you don’t have a blog where I could explain things to you that you got wrong on your blog.


  3. Sorry to get back to you so late on this. It’s true my point was different from yours (so you weren’t “wrong” in that), but I do think it is very important that LSP continue to be used for both agencies and freelancers — it should not be left to be hijacked by agencies only, for the reasons I explained. And that is happening because translators are too ill-informed or too shy.
    Re telling me what I’ve got wrong in the FA&WB column, by all means write in a letter explaining that and I’ll be happy to address your issues. It would be an honor, Steve!


  4. A. I don’t really care about abbreviations that much. I have a feeling that the abbreviation LSP will be forgotten in a few years anyway, except in the state of Louisiana where it will continue to mean Louisiana State Police and Louisiana State Penitentiary.

    B. I never know which part was written by you and which part was written by Eugene Seidel, that’s his name, right? And I generally agree with everything in that column.

    If you had a blog I am sure I would be disagreeing with you every now and then. But I guess you don’t have the time.


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  6. […] “LSPs” (language service providers, which is the newspeak for translation agencies), see my post here, because all resistance to MT on the part of translators would be no less futile than resistance to […]


  7. […] I wrote already in another post, “when [in September of 2011] I Googled LSP,  I got back a lot of interesting suggestions, […]


  8. […] Artists agencies who represent singers, actors or soccer players don’t see the need to pretend that they are the ones doing the signing, acting, or ball kicking. For some reason they don’t mind being called agencies. But in the translation business, “agency” is a dirty word. I noticed that even many translators stopped using the word “agency” on blogs and dutifully and obediently call agencies “LSPs”, see my post “What Is an LSP Other Than a Misnomer?”. […]


  9. […] Of course, since translation agencies buy translations from translators and then sell them to people who need them, they are not really the providers. The providers are the translators, and the agencies are brokers. There is nothing wrong with being a broker, but they sure hate it when you put it like that. I still dare to call them translation agencies, but that is because I have no manners. Everybody else seems to be calling them LSPs these days, including translators who obediently conform to the new lingo on their blogs and in discussion groups, although nobody outside the translation industry knows what this abbreviation means as I write in this post. […]


  10. […] to include both freelance translators and translation agencies if I remember correctly what Chris Durban, a well known financial translator based in Paris, once said in a comment on my blog, because the word “LSPs”, which is now a synonym for the more accurate term […]


  11. I’m taking a class on CAT tools, being taught by two translators that work for Microsoft. They say LSP is an ancronym for Localization Service Provider. Working with software much of the time, they are concerned with the “translation” of images as well as language. So, for example, an LSP might have the job of reworking the icons in a given software app to suit the culture of a different target audience. The word localization encompasses more than just language translation.


  12. […] replacement for the term “translation agency” for a number of reasons. First of all, most people outside of “the translation industry” have absolutely no idea that “LS…“. Thus it is a perfect way to get rid of the misleading term “translation […]


  13. […] the fact that I wrote a special explanatory post on this subject more than five years ago, search engines have not picked up on that post’s valuable information, which is already […]


  14. In Europe in academic publications on translation, LSP stands for Language for Special Purposes i.e. specialist or specialist’s language in business, law, commerce a.s.o.


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