Your life will go by someone’s agenda. If not yours, then someone else’s. Your choice.
When St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators and librarians, was translating the Scriptures which then became the Old and New Testament from Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and other languages into Latin, which was not his native language, I imagine that he must have been struggling with many technical and logistical aspects of his immodest undertaking, just like modern translators.
Which quill and ink should I use? And on what kind of paper should I be writing? Do I dare to be translating into Latin, which is not my native language, from all of these languages that I know pretty well, but perhaps not as well as some other translators?
Six hundred years ago the technical and contractual aspects of our profession played an insignificant role compared to present time. The Pope who was paying St. Jerome for his work probably let him choose the quill, the ink, and paper, as well as logistical support such as which other scholars he would be consulting for his translation since it would take another 600 years before Internet and search engines would be invented.
The important thing was to make sure that the Scriptures would be translated into a language understandable to most people. The rest was up to the translator. And the Pope knew very well how to pick his translator because he spoke several languages himself.
Unlike St. Jerome, modern translators are bombarded by all kinds of technical and other requirements by people who don’t seem to have a clue how to tell a good translator from a bad one.
Translators who work for translation agencies are told these days by these translation agencies that first, they must sign a “Confidentiality Agreement” which usually has nothing to do with confidentiality any more. Last week when an agency asked me about a price quote for a patent translation, I was sent an agreement, almost 4 thousand words long, containing numerous ridiculous paragraphs, typically contained in most such agreements these days, such as this one:
“Contractor’s Qualifications. The Contractor represents that the Contractor is in the business of providing translation and/or interpreting services, and that the Contractor (or the Contractor’s employees, if the Contractor is a business entity) possesses the education, training, skills, experience, licenses, supplies and equipment incidental and necessary to the provision of translation services.”
Man, that is so clever. The lawyer who wrote this contract was worth at least 300 hundred dollars an hour because obviously, this article will weed out any and all questionable translators who do not “possess the education, training, skills, experience, licenses, supplies and equipment incidental and necessary to the provision of translation services”.
They will most certainly refrain from applying for a job upon reading Article 1 of the Contract, right?
Incidentally, I call such people “zombie translators” and I can generally tell them from real translators within a few seconds after reading just a few sentences of their e-mail or résumé.
Another really cleverly worded article said:
“Assistance. Notwithstanding the generality of the foregoing, the Contractor agrees that, upon the Company’s request, the Contractor will execute a signed transfer, in the form provided by the Company, of all Company Innovations to the Company. The Contractor agrees to assist the Company in any reasonable manner to obtain, perfect and enforce, for the Company’s benefit, the Company’s rights, title and interest in any and all countries, in and to all copyrights, moral rights and other property rights in each of the Company Innovations.”
I thought that they just wanted me to translate a patent for them because they can’t translate Japanese patents by themselves. Instead, “Notwithstanding the generality of the foregoing (????) they want me to “assist the Company … to obtain, perfect and enforce … the Company’s rights, title and interest (????) in any and all countries (????) …. WTF?
Do I need to be armed when I am “assisting the Company with the enforcement”, and if so, what kind of weapons should I purchase with what kind of ammunition to assist with the enforcement? I am asking because The Contract omitted this vital information.
I intended to go through that contract and change some paragraphs by deleting things here and adding some other things there that would more or less completely change the character of the 4 thousand words long document. But they never sent me the job, probably because they never got it, so I did not have to do that.
I think that the agreements that translation agencies ask translators to sign these days are so incredibly uncivil, demeaning and overreaching, to the point of ridiculousness, because they reflect how insecure the agencies are about their own business model.
I don’t think that these agreements are helping to make their business model more secure. More ridiculous, by all means, but not more secure. Zombie translators will readily sign just about anything, and then deliver zombie garbage. The problem is, unlike the Pope 600 years ago, most modern agencies really know nothing about languages and translation per se. They may know a lot about the business of buying and selling translations, but nothing about how translations are created.
Unlike St. Jerome, freelance translators are often also required by translation agencies to use for their translations specific CATs (computer assisted tools), usually Trados. Would St. Jerome agree to use Trados had it been available when he was translating the Scriptures? Probably not, I think. Something is telling me that he valued creativity and freedom as the most essential elements of his work.
I also wonder, did St. Jerome and other translators in his time have to wait sixty or more days to get paid for their work?
I kind of doubt that too. I think that this too is a relatively recent invention of the new normal in the translation business, namely that translators who don’t have much and do all the work are forced to carry the heaviest burdens.
I doubt that St. Jerome would have put up with something like that. He might have had the patience of a saint, but even a saint generally has to eat every day, except when fasting.