North Korea has only one Leader, and when he dies, the son takes over immediately to preside over a long period of incredibly realistic mourning. The title of the father of the present chubby leader, whose official title is now “Dear Leader”, was “Great Leader”. Nobody knows yet what the official title of the grandkid of the “Great Leader” will be when he grows up. Probably “Brave Leader” or something like that. That is, if there still is a North Korea by then in need of a new Leader.
Things are simple in North Korea. But when I look at the websites of translation agencies, what confuses me is that they all call themselves “translation industry leaders” in the self-serving, moronic propaganda “About Us” paragraph strategically placed under fake photoshopped images of enthusiastic young people representing different racial groups who, I guess, are supposed to represent translators. There are thousands of leaders in the translation industry, and each of them is leading their translation agency and the whole industry to bright new future thanks to a completely different and unique vision for the industry, which is always described, basically with the same words, in a paragraph that is titled “How We Are Different”.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, says Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina. Since all translation industry leaders are all alike too, while they also somehow manage to be different at the same time, they too must be like one big, happy family.
These translation industry leaders must be also incredibly bright because they invariably “specialize” in translations in every imaginable field, from medical and legal translations to patents and financial translations in 170 languages in both directions, while they also handle interpreting, including telephone interpreting if that is what you need, as well as machine translation, website localization, and many other “specialties”.
In fact there is no specialty that they do not specialize in. You name it, they got it! The big, happy family of translation leaders can handle just about anything, that is how brilliant they are! Can they also supply geishas to entertain CEOs over a bite of sushi and a cup of o-sake? In Japan, they probably can. I am not sure about how they do it here in the United States now that Heidi Fleiss is out of business, but it is not really that different from supplying interpreters, is it?
There was a time, not that long ago, when many translation agencies really did specialize in a relatively narrow field, back when translation agency owners who did not call themselves leaders still had some specialized knowledge. For example, when I was starting out as a translator in mid eighties in San Francisco, and even later up until the nineties, I used to receive Japanese chemical patents from an agency that was run by a Russian guy who had a PhD in chemistry, and German patents about mechanical engineering from a German guy who was an engineer, etc.
Twenty years ago, people who were running translation agencies mostly knew the subjects and the languages that they were dealing with, because they did in fact specialize only in some languages and some subjects.
But then the new breed of incredibly gifted and brilliant new translation agency operators who can handle any subject and language because they know everything about everything was born, probably at about the same time when Wall Street started designing new securitized (which is a synonym for fraudulent these days) financial instruments and derivatives that would eventually ruin the world economy.
At about the same time when they started referring to themselves as “translation industry leaders”, translation agencies stopped referring to themselves as mere agencies, and instead started calling themselves LSPs (as in Language Service Providers).
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.
Call me naive, but I think that it would be a better world if translation agencies were mostly run by people who specialize in a certain field because they are experts in that field. That is how things used to be twenty some years ago when I was just starting out as a translator, and people who were sending me work from translation agencies actually knew something about the subjects that they were handling, and sometime even the language, before they were replaced by omniscient and omnipotent Leaders who claim that their translation agency can translate any subject, any language, in any direction.