On surface, it would seem that unlike translation quality, translation quantity can be measured quite easily: you can measure it based on the number of words, lines, or pages.
From the viewpoint of the corporate translation agency model, translation is just another commodity that can be bought and then sold at a higher price, for example based on a unit called word count. It is important to keep the price of these words low at the point when they are purchased from workers called translators, and high at the point when they are sold to clients.
Among new tricks in the arsenal of ploys used by some translation agencies are computer-assisted translation tools (CATs), which instead of being used to facilitate processing of largely mechanical and routine operations can now be used also to deny payment to translators for what is called in the industry “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, i.e. similar or identical words.
Because the world is seemingly full of translators, and translation is a largely an unregulated business activity in many countries, some translation agencies became experts at finding would-be translators, often in third world countries, whose main if not only strength is that they are much, much cheaper than their more qualified and experienced colleagues.
These translation agencies then ask qualified and experienced translators to “edit” at a low hourly rates the disastrous results of the work of such would-be translators. I started calling them zombie translators in my posts, and to my delight, this new term is now popping up on blogs and in discussions of translators on social media.
Some agencies believe that machine translation, which can be used to obtain a rough simile of human translation at an even lower price first, namely usually for free, can then be then edited and licked into shape by a human processor of words “translated” by a machine.
All of this is just a natural result of the concept according to which translation is just another commodity that can be easily measured in units called words, words that can be bought at a low price, the lower, the better, and then sold at a higher price. The greater the margin between the price at which this commodity is purchased and the price at which it is sold to a user, the better, of course, for businesses selling these words.
It is easy to measure commodities, such as bananas or sausages. All you have to do is weigh them in kilograms or pounds.
But translation is a very different type of commodity, if we want to call it that, because translation represents a type of a particular commodity called information. Information is something that may not be easily measured based on the number of words or lines contained in it. One could also say that information is the most important commodity in the world, because it is the lifeblood of our civilization. That is why information is being hoarded, usually in secret, because an unlimited amount of information provides an almost unlimited power to those who possess this information. Cardinal Richelieu said it best almost four centuries ago:”Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find a reason in them to hang him“.
Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by trivial and mostly useless information, often in the form of advertising that is packaged as information by our wonderful media. Mistranslated and incomprehensible information is like blood that is infected with a virus that will eventually kill us.
There are no full or fuzzy matches in translation, because translation is not about words. Words, lines, or pages are just a convenient quantifier that can be used to simplify the buying and selling process.
Some people think that as a profession, translation is doomed because most or possibly all translators will be eventually replaced by computers, which is something that happened to many professions in the last few decades. If it was possible to replace most human bank clerks and travel agents by machines and computers, the same fate must inevitably await also translators.
But machines and software can only replace humans who perform routine, repetitive operations that can be broken down into many individual steps and replicated by a software programmer who can then write a software package seamlessly simulating these operations.
Human thinking includes many operations that can be described as routine and repetitive. But the result of human thinking at the point where things actually make sense is never a routine. For some reason, new information is often discovered at the end as a result of human thinking when two contradictory ideas are being considered. At end of the processing of two contradictory instructions by a computer, the computer crashes instead of arriving at new information.
This new information is something that cannot be easily quantified, for instance in words, lines, or pages, or replicated by software.
In fact, it is one of those ephemeral things that cannot be really measured at all.