Posted by: patenttranslator | March 25, 2015

Who Or What Is “A Dear Linguist”?

Translation agency coordinators and project managers who send mass mailings to multiple translators sometime have a minor problem with the greeting line in the beginning of their e-mails.

Normally, when a translation agency person sends an e-mail to a translator such as myself, the e-mail will start with “Dear Steve”, or “Dear Mr. Vitek”.

If it is a real e-mail, (as opposed to mass e-mail, a close relative of spam), in English, Japanese, French, or German, it will generally have my name in it (always the last name if it comes from a polite continent such as Europe or Asia, while first name is usually reserved for lowly peons such as translators, chamber maids or dog catchers if the e-mail originates in North America.

But whether the first name or last name should be used is not really what I want to write about in my post today. What I am more interested in is the fact that agency coordinators do not have the time to spell out the name in every single e-mail when they are sending the same inquiry about availability for a job to be done “at your best price” to a dozen translators.

This is quite understandable because each name change would take about 2 seconds, which means that the translation coordinators would need to waste about 24 seconds only to change the name for each of the translators, and then they would still have to waste even more time dispatching each individual e-mail into the Internet so that these mass e-mails would not look like what they are, namely a close relative of spam.

We translators totally understand that it would be unreasonable to expect project managers who have so little time to unnecessarily waste so much time in this manner.

Mass e-mails are so much more efficient compared to the way things used to be done before! In Translation Industry version 1.0, and I am talking nineteen eighties, somebody would actually call and chitchat with me a bit first before mentioning that an actual job needs to be done.

That was definitely very inefficient use of human resources and something needed to be done about it.

In Translation Industry version 2.0, which would be nineteen nineties, I generally knew that the e-mail that was sent to me was in fact sent only to me and nobody else. Somebody had a translation that was meant for myself and nobody else, should I be interested in doing it.

In Translation Industry version 3.0, by which I mean now, the same e-mail is often sent to a whole bunch of hungry, hungry translators to watch them squirm while trying to underbid each other. This is so much more efficient! It will be the early bird who will catch the worm, just like the proverb says in a number of languages, provided that the early hungry bird charges less than all the other hungry birds.

One agency coordinator said to me once, when I dared to I suggest to her that I don’t appreciate this method very much because it looks like throwing a bone to a pack of hungry dogs, that she likes to work with “first responders” in this manner. I’m afraid I told her to remove me from her list of first responders because I would no longer respond to anything originating from this particular source.

Apparently it’s not just firefighters and paramedics who are expected to be first responders these days.

I know for sure that I am dealing with a mass e-mail, a close relative of spam, when instead of being politely addressed in the greeting line by my last name with the prefix Mr., Monsieur, or Herr, or the suffix 様(sama), or even by my first name, which is still fine with me, I am addressed as a “Dear Linguist”, or “Dear Linguists”.

“Who the hell are you calling dear linguist?” I am thinking to myself every time when I read this newly invented salutation.

There are at least two main definitions of what the word “linguist” means:

1. somebody who speaks fluently several languages,
2. a specialist in linguistics, the study of the nature, rules and changes in a language or languages.

I find it somewhat surprising that whether you belong to category 1 or category 2 depends mostly on your native language.

If you are for example a Mongolian linguist, you would be naturally expected to speak a few more languages, probably Chinese and Russian, perhaps even English, not just Mongolian. I doubt that there are many specialists in linguistics at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences who know only Mongolian.

The same is true probably about most linguists in most other countries as well. If you are for example a Dutch linguist, you would be again likely expected to speak a few other languages in addition to Dutch, probably German and English, possibly also French, as a professor teaching the science called linguistics at a university in Holland. I think that you could be still called a linguist if you are for example a Japanese specialist in the Ainu language, which is the language of original inhabitants of Japan who are now mostly extinct. But I doubt that people would call you a linguist in Japan if you spoke only Japanese.

But if your native language is English, you can still be called a linguist even if you can’t speak any other language.

I know this because when I was having a dinner at a restaurant last year with a group of friends and acquaintances, a lady who was sitting across the table from me (at a long table for a group of people) told me that she was teaching linguistics at a local College. So I asked her what languages she knew as I was hoping that we might perhaps share an interest in the same languages.

But it turned out that she really only spoke English, although she did know a few words in French. So she belonged to the 2. category of what the word linguist means, which probably exists only in a few countries.

It may be that translation agencies started using the friendly greeting “Dear Linguists” to make up for the fact that they don’t use names in a mass mailing. They may even think that they are somehow ingratiating themselves to translators, and that “linguist” sounds better than other names they like to call us. Names like “vendors”, or just “All” (as in “Dear All”). Although “Dear All” is still acceptable, “Dear Vendors” would sound really stupid.

But why don’t they call us translators, since that is what we are, I wonder?

Personally, I much prefer the term translator. As I have pointed out above, just about anybody can be a linguist as you don’t necessarily need to even know another language depending on the country where you live and the language that you speak.

I bet cloud workers, who are being groomed by a segment of the “translation industry” to completely replace translators one day soon, perhaps in Translation Industry Version 4.0, are also called “Dear Linguists” in mass e-mails from translation agency project managers. The main difference here is probably that these mass e-mails are sent to hundreds or thousands of cloud workers instead of just to a dozen translators.

And unlike myself and perhaps some other translators, cloud workers might even appreciate being called “Dear Linguists”. After all, “Dear Cloud Workers” would sound really stupid, even more so than “Dear Vendors”. Plus who knows whether cloud workers still have names these days. Maybe all they have is numbers like political prisoners in the gulags in the former Soviet Union, in which case it would be difficult to call them anything in mass e-mails.

Just imagine that translation agency project managers would have to call their translation specialists who happen to be cloud workers “Dear 21,001 ~ 21,999”. Now that would sound really stupid. “Dear Linguists” is definitely the way to go when one needs to address masses of cloud workers who are tirelessly working on demanding linguistic tasks such as post-processing of machine-translated documents, which in some respects may not be that different from the work that political prisoners in the former Soviet Union used to do.

Cloud workers are probably paid about the same as what gulag inmates used to make, which is to say nothing or next to nothing, but unlike gulag inmates, they don’t have to live in miserable camps in extremely cold Siberian climate.

It is probably not that bad being a cloud worker. You can pretty much pick the climate where you want to live, you are free to wear civilian clothes, you are not surrounded by watch towers with barbed wire and armed guards, and you may even be called “Dear Linguist” in e-mails from translation agencies.


  1. Back in the old days, a friend and colleague of mine was called a linguist because he had a PhD in linguistics, with a thesis about creole languages, a good opportunity to visit some parts of former French empire with nice beaches and better climate than what we see in Paris universities.

    He never tried to be a translator, but is indeed a linguist, which I am not. Not so much that I am not interested in linguistics, but I have no formal cursus or diploma in the field, so why should I pretend to be a linguist?

    Conversely I pretend to be a translator, because I have been working in the field for decades, at the general satisfaction of various kinds of clients, and IMO this is more a profession than a diploma. Someone who proves to have the skills and experience to properly translate may be called a translator.

    But I found some years ago why post 1.0 translation companies will rather call their dear partners/freelancers/salve workers “linguists”: this is a way to include any person with any level of fluency in an other language, for example an intern student needing a 3 or 6-months internship abroad to validate his diploma or cursus: you are a student, you speak and read Italian (even if this is with average layman defects and errors), you are my “dear Italian llinguist”.

    So an 18-year old renowned in his university for sloppy spelling and grammar is by a modern miracle called a “linguist” in Chindia, because for sure he knows more Italian than the local PMs who already have to fight with their English.

    These “linguists” may even have to edit your work or the work of other translators, seen from Chindia, this nice person who exchanges jokes with you at the coffee machine is for sure excellent in this language, just because this is a native language. They may even create glossaries that you will have to use, and you will be punished by bad QA marks if you don’t.

    An example form this morning: translating a prepress manual, the “internal linguist” had glossarized “signature” to the same word in French, which may be confirmed by any dictionary and any layman in the street.

    Except that in a printing context, this has nothing to do with the handwritten illegible drawing that you make with a pen on a check, this is a folded printed sheet that will become a section of a book, and it is called “cahier” in French.

    This is the difference between a linguist and a translator: the linguist will tell you and show in dictionaries that “signature” is the same work in French and in English, the translator will use the word of trade , this is why I do not answer to “dear linguist” e-mails.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great job, Steve! Congrats!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Your musings made me chuckle on a dreary, gray Virginia morning.

    I actually appreciate emails that address me with “Dear Linguist” because I know I am not required to respond to them by any kind of etiquette. Thankfully, I am too busy working with clients, who know my name, where I reside, and appreciate that I start my workday at 5:30am and that I will call them half-way around the world via Skype to put voices with a name. They also know that I am not a linguist but a translator first and a German-US American interculturalist second. I should call them today and thank them for not following the “language as a commodity in a mass-market business” trend. Or better yet, I should send them a hand-written thank you note!

    Thanks, Steve, for your indirect inspiration!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Dear Blogging Linguist Steve:

    I don’t always agree with everything you write, but this is not only very funny but right on target.

    I do find it a little strange to find myself called a “linguist.” I don’t remember when that practice started; I think it was only in the last few years. In a very broad sense, I suppose, a “linguist” is someone who has some relationship with one or more languages, and that includes just about every human being, I think.

    Actually, I don’t particularly mind what I’m called in these emails. Sometimes I’m not called anything at all; there’s no greeting line. In those cases, it’s probably someone who is so insecure with their English writing ability that they don’t know what form of address to use.

    It’s the emails with very mangled English that make me suspicious. If these folks are professionals in the translation biz and are trying to address email recipients using English, one would suppose that they would get someone who can handle the language (i.e., a “professional linguist”) to draft their messages if they can’t do it correctly themselves, if only to present a professional appearance. The likelihood, however, is that they belong to the famous category of “translation agencies in a laptop.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Let me add to the list of cloud-work indignities those emails that state: “there’s a project in your language combination on our portal. To bid for it, please log in.”

    This email (in its many variants) makes me want to throw things. An invitation to bid? Really? If they don’t want me, specifically, I’m probably far too expensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The problem with the concept of portals is that translators forgot to ask themselves the question:”Would that be a portal to Heaven, or a portal to Hell?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely a case of “Lasciate ogni speranza…”


  7. Makes you wonder what Translation Industry Version 4.0 will look like.

    Poor customers ……


  8. Holy cow, Steve. Something happened to your stylesheet for the blog. The comment text is now too small for me to read even with glasses!


    • There was a code embedded at the end of the the post. No idea how it got there. Does the comment font look OK now that I got rid of the code?


  9. The font looks good now, although all text, everywhere, is getting smaller for my eyes, and I can’t blame any code for that… Good post. Someone should put together a dictionary of that half-literate New Agency-Speak (I refuse to call it English). In addition to “linguist” and the repulsive, stomach-turning “vendor” I was also recently called a “consultant” and asked if I could “take a case”, which was a 1 page routine translation. And then, we have those acronyms… SLA (Steve offered a nice explanation for that one elsewhere), NDA, TP, TED, TEP by EOD, and many others, that combined with the Facebook acronyms like ROFLMAO, IDK, TTYL et cetera make me wonder what planet I am living on. Od course, YMMV.


  10. OMG, LOL, THX, Anna.

    All those acronyms, abbreviations, and newspeak slogans and propagandistic concepts like “integration of the latest language technology” and “cloud worker platform efficiencies” almost make me nostalgic for the old idiotic slogans of my youth, such as:



  11. I got myself stuck in a “linguist” quagmire just recently when I referred to a poetry publisher as a “fellow linguist” and was immediately challenged by our mutual friend Richard on how, exactly I defined that term. I realized I was just using the word as a sort of lazy shorthand for “someone who does something involving language”. This might explain the use of this term by overworked large-agency PMs, although why they wouldn’t just use “translator” remains a mystery. Still, it’s a nice, easy tip-off you’re dealing with a mass e-mail. I hate it when you respond to an e-mail apparently addressed only to you, and then it still turns out they actually sent the e-mail to a lot of others and already gave it to the first responder. OR, and this is even more annoying, you respond the minute you get the offer, and an hour later they email you back saying they had just given it to someone else one second before you responded. No they didn’t, they waited around to see if they could get a lower rate from someone else. So hurray for obvious give-aways; it saves time 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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