Posted by: patenttranslator | April 7, 2015

A Brief History of “Translation Industry” from Version 1.0 to Version 4.0.1


 
The long history of what is now often called the Translation Industry (previously just translation, or translation business) can be divided into a number of time periods of varying lengths based mostly on the technical means that were or are used in this particular vocation and business.

I would like to propose the following division of the Translation Industry into 4 time periods resulting in 4 distinct versions of the industry.

Translation Industry Version 1.0

Translation Industry 1.0 would cover a very long period of time, from the invention of writing in Mesopotamia and Egypt about 3,200 years ago, and in China about 1,200 years ago, up until about the year 1970. Virtually no technology, other than stones and chisels, and later ink, quill, pen, paper, dictionaries and typewriters, was used for translating for about the first four millennia.

All of the following periods of Translation Industry, from Version 2.0 to the current version 4.0.1, were characterized by eager adoption of various technological tools that have transformed the Translation Industry into the many fanged, shamelessly profit-driven and money-hungry beast that it is today.

Early Tools in Translation Industry Version 2.0 ~ 3.0

The most important technological tool in Version 2.0 in the nineteen seventies and nineteen eighties, for translators, translation agencies and their customers was the facsimile machine, abbreviated as fax.

In Version 3.0, the fax was supplemented and later for the most part replaced by a device called modem. As technology continued to produce new hardware and software, better and cheaper equipment such as laser printers and copiers, as well as more flexible and powerful word processing programs and other software, these tools were quickly purchased and put to use by translators and translation agencies in Version 3.0 of the Translation Industry in the nineteen eighties and nineties.

Under the unrelenting assaults of a Goliath called Microsoft, a popular religion in the word processing community called WordPerfect was largely driven underground after many years of almost complete domination over the word processing masses. The WordPerfect religion is not quite dead yet, although it is moribund. WordPerfect and several open source software suites, in particular OpenOffice and LibreOffice, today represent the main competition to Microsoft.

Twenty years ago, a free version of Microsoft Word was installed on most PCs running Microsoft Windows. That was how Microsoft got rid of its competition and killed WordPerfect, after it used the same technique to eliminate Netscape Navigator 20 years ago, the main competition for Internet Explorer.

However, the monopolistic technique worked for Microsoft only for a relatively short period of time as Internet Explorer now has plenty of competition from Mozilla and other browsers.

A “free trial version” of Microsoft Office, which includes MS Word, is still installed on most PCs, but instead of really offering it for free or simply selling it to us at a competitive price, Microsoft now wants us to keep renting this software from them in perpetuity once we get hooked, the way sharecroppers must rent land in perpetuity from wealthy land owners, so that we would have to pay them every year for the privilege of using a program that not so long ago we were able to own by purchasing it at a reasonable cost.

TI Version 4.0 – The Birth of CATs

In Translation Industry Version 4.0, the word processing programs of the last century with their spell checkers and other handy features such as the word count and grammar and style checkers led to the development of computer-assisted translation tools called CATs. These expensive software programs promised to translators willing to pay the high price tag flawless and after the initial learning curve almost effortless standardization of terminology along with development of translation memories that could be shared between translators and their customers.

These CATs were sold to translators with the promise that the new revolutionary “language technology” tools would make it possible for just about any translator to double, triple or quadruple the daily output of translated words, and thus also to double, triple, or quadruple translators’ income because most translators were and still are paid based on the number of words that they can translate per a unit of time.

But Instead of Making More Money, Translators Are Making Less Money Because of CATs

But by the time the cat was out of the bag, Translation Industry 4.0.1 introduced new concepts of “the language technology” called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, which basically means that translators are paid only a fraction of their normal rate for similar portions of texts identified as such by the CATs, and nothing for “identical” passages, although they still have to translate them because the translators, and not the CATs, are still responsible for the content of their translations, regardless of what tools they are using.

Instead of being able to earn more money by working faster thanks to a revolutionary computer tool, translators who use these tools, and the use is often mandated by a certain type of translation agency, now make significantly less thanks to these tools.

But it is all for a good cause. Just like Microsoft can make more money if it can force the sharecroppers on the Microsoft Plantation to rent in perpetuity a product that they used to be able to own at one time after purchasing it, and then buy upgrades only if they have useful functions, translation agencies make more money if they can get away with the catty and fuzzy schemes that they are so skillfully and carefully inventing and creating.

Most of the customers of the translation agencies have no idea that there are such things as “fuzzy matches”. In any case, they have no way of verifying these “matches” unless they own the same software.

New Tools Are No Longer Developed to Help Translators

Up until Version 3.0 of the Translation industry, new technology (typewriter, fax, modem) was developed and designed mostly to facilitate the translating process, or to enable instantaneous exchange of documents.

While in all of the the previous versions of the Translation Industry, new technology was developed to help translators and their clients, after the development of the clever concept of “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” in Translation Industry Version 4.0.0, the emphasis was placed in Version 4.0.1 on technological and other tools that make it possible to better control translators, to make them more dependent on translation agencies and incapable of making an independent decision.

The new tools are no longer designed to facilitate the translating process or delivery of documents. Some of these new tools are technical in nature, such as obligatory use of CAT software prescribed by the translation agencies. Some are organizational and managerial, such as the use of “work flows”, on-line systems for management of documents, and even more importantly for management of people called translators, with many hoops that translators must jumped through if they want to be paid at some point, as well as incredibly demeaning, unfair and often illegal agreements that translators are in some cases asked to sign if they want to be placed into the database of a certain type of translation agency.

Coercive, Restrictive and Manipulative New Tools of Translation Industry Version 4.0.1

These new tools that are used in the modern Translation Industry are designed to be controlling, restrictive, coercive, manipulative and punitive.

For example, unlike in the past, in many new agreements that translators are asked to sign now, they must promise to pay “reasonable attorney’s fee” should the translation agency decide in its infinite wisdom to sue a hapless translator for what it may perceive as a breach of contract, while the translator must expressly renounce the right to use the same kind of legal recourse.

Some translation agencies are implementing “migration to a new translation management system”, which basically means that new work is thrown out onto the Internet and then assigned to the first, hungriest dog in the entire pack of translators who grabs it by offering to do it at the lowest rate.

A new clause that is being put into these contracts as of last year is an illegal “on-site auditing” clause, namely the right of the translation agency to visit and inspect the premises of the translators, as well as to access remotely translators’ computers, ostensibly “to check the proper setting of the security software”. It would be illegal to conduct these kinds of raids on people’s homes in most countries on this planet, with the possible exception of North Korea. But based on the locations of translation agencies who are sneaking this new clause into new contracts with translators, this is apparently not illegal for example in United Kingdom, or in another country in Western Europe, or in the United States.

It is not very difficult to predict the probable result of these new developments in Translation Industry Version 4.0.1.

Because no self-respecting professional translator is likely to sign such contracts and work under these conditions, translation agencies using these coercive and not quite legal methods and techniques are losing and will continue to lose their most experienced translators who may have been working for them for many years. You can read all about it on social media, especially on LinkedIn.

But some of them, especially the large ones, don’t seem to really care too much about that. As far as they are concerned, the world is full of new translators who will be happy and grateful to work for them, even at lower and lower rates and under just about any conditions, which is evidenced by hundreds of resumes clogging daily e-mail boxes of translation agencies and even translators who have a website from not-quite translators from every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

These are the people who are likely to continue working for the restrictive, coercive, and manipulative type of translation agencies in the Translation Industry Version 4.0.1.

The army of not-quite translators who don’t mind working under the horrible and often illegal conditions created for them in the present version of the Translation Industry will be also supplemented by “bilingual” post-processors of machine translations whose job is to eliminate the most glaring mistakes of machine pseudo-translation so that the resulting product would look almost like a real translation, and by “cloud workers”, largely anonymous “bilinguals”, who unlike translators in the past, are expected to work for free or perhaps for nothing.

Because the quality of translations produced in TI Version 4.0.1 is likely to span the range from mostly bad to really horrible, this creates excellent opportunities for independent translators such as myself and for what I call translation agencies with a human face.

The mortal sin of the TI Version 4.0.1 is that it completely ignores the needs of the customers. What customers who in the end pay for translation need is good quality of the product that they pay for.

The customers obviously prefer to pay as little as possible. We all want to do that as customers, no matter what it is that we are buying. But most people understand that we usually get what we pay for.

I think that translation agencies who naively believe in sustainability of the greed-driven model of TI Version 4.0.1 will continue to lose customers who need reliable information and well written texts and who thus cannot use post-edited machine pseudo-translation, or atrocious translations committed by “cloud workers” and “bilinguals”.

Translation Industry Version 4.0.1 Is Not the World

It is important for us to realize that the TI Version 4.0.1 does not represent the entire world of the translation business.

Large agencies make so much noise with their advertising, conferences and commercial propaganda that they sometime tend to suck out all of the oxygen from the room. But they are not the world. It may take years before a customer realizes that he is paying for garbage, especially if we are talking about a large corporation with a complicated and often not very efficient organizational structure.

But there is no question that the Translation Industry Version 4.0.1 is mostly geared toward producing translations of very poor quality. As more and more customers start realizing this, more and more of them will be defecting to translation agencies with a human face, mostly small and medium-sized translation businesses.

There are still many translation agencies left in this world that do not subscribe to the coercive, restrictive and manipulative model of the new type of translation agency and continue to treat translators they way they used to be treated in the previous version of the translation industry, namely as valuable knowledge workers whose skills and abilities are much more important than any of the wonderful new tools that some translation agencies are trying to force down our throat.

I think that these are the only translation agencies that any self-respecting translator should still be working for, especially since if I am right in my characterization of a certain segment of the Translation Industry Version 4.0.1 in my posts, many of the most ruthless translation agencies of this type are likely to go bankrupt at some point anyway.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for your wonderful, historical insights and your clear deconstruction of a (parasite) industry headed for its inevitable demise when both translators and clients wake up to its false promise. Of course, when the bubble bursts, we will find that the ‘entrepreneurs’ have already made their money and moved on to fresh fields of endeavour. After all, they were in it to make (fast) money, not to provide (quality) translations, and judging by the success of a well-known New York agency, they’ve done very well.

    A professional, including a translator, spends many years studying, training and working to develop a professional reputation and client base. Entrepreneurs do the opposite. They launch and build a business quickly, based on very attractive promises of quality and competitive prices, and get out before reality inevitably catches up with them.
    We used to call them ‘opportunists’ rather than ‘entrepreneurs’, but we live in an age of creative use of language, used to create images for the purpose of disguising reality. Not new, but thanks to the rise of the advertising and PR industry, much more pervasive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “A professional, including a translator, spends many years studying, training and working to develop a professional reputation and client base. Entrepreneurs do the opposite. They launch and build a business quickly, based on very attractive promises of quality and competitive prices, and get out before reality inevitably catches up with them.”

    Maybe when reality catches up with them, it will be Version 5.0.

    I wonder what it will look like.

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  3. As always, there will be a lot of confusion and recriminations when it hits the fan, and as always, most of the blame allocated by those with the loudest voice (corporate agencies), to those with the weakest voice (the translators).
    In the absence of a strong, clearly identified and unified voice from the ‘profession’, another set of opportunists, or scavengers in this case, (sorry, entrepreneurs) will rise, who are skilled at what Naomi Klein calls ‘disaster capitalism’ (a good read for understanding the myths and curses of modern capitalism).

    In my view the only long-term solution is the clear differentiation of the ‘profession’ from the ‘industry’ by admitting (and excluding) translators to and from accreditation through professional associations (who understand that neither para-professionals, nor agencies can be regarded as professionals). I recognise that non-accreditation of the latter clearly conflicts the view of your supreme court that corporations are people too; wow! I wonder how long before corporations can be canonised and join the ranks of the saints. Corporate owners such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and ‘Sir’ Richard Branson are clearly well on their way already 🙂

    Perhaps ‘Sir’ and ‘Saint’ have been interchangeable in the UK for centuries, and the rest of the world is a bit slow in adopting the iconography of the new religion that is unfettered c(r)apitalism.

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  4. […] The long history of what is now often called the Translation Industry (previously just translation, or translation business) can be divided into a number of time periods of varying lengths b…  […]

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  5. “It is important for us to realize that the TI Version 4.0.1 does not represent the entire world of the translation business.”

    It is so crucial to repeat this again and again! Thank you.

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  6. And thank you for commenting.

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  7. It’s an accurate picture, but you have left out one little detour that maybe has a clue for what version 5.0 will look like. When the CAT ‘revolution’ arrived, there was a kind of experimental period when two things happened: 1. agencies started advertising for ‘editors’ rather than translators, the idea being that machine translations could now be edited by monoglots at much lower cost; and 2. there was a wave of hungry kids taking jobs as translators without being able to speak another language, believing that they could just run the software and then edit it as in point 1. These experiments were premature, failed, and were passed over in silence. However, it has been well said that the UN, EU and other big employers of interpreters and translators rely on the large-scale displacement of people in the Second World War, which created a lot of bilingual (and trilingual, etc.) families and individuals, and these people are dying out. I am sure this applies to text translators too. So I expect version 5.0 will see further attempts in the direction of translation by people who can’t speak other languages. The circle that has to be squared is a commercial one: how can agencies maintain their nonsense about ‘our international pool of expert translators providing perfect translations every time with ultra-fast turnaround’ under these conditions? But that’s the way the commercial pressure is pushing the ‘industry’ as far as I can see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “When the CAT ‘revolution’ arrived, there was a kind of experimental period when two things happened: 1. agencies started advertising for ‘editors’ rather than translators, the idea being that machine translations could now be edited by monoglots at much lower cost; and 2. there was a wave of hungry kids taking jobs as translators without being able to speak another language, believing that they could just run the software and then edit it as in point 1. These experiments were premature, failed, and were passed over in silence.”

      The appetite of agencies to strike it lucky by using CAT-operators hasn’t diminished at all, only that from the experimental stage of

      “hungry kids taking jobs as translators without being able to speak another language, believing that they could just run the software and then edit it as in point 1.”,

      the agencies have moved on to the stage of hungry people who have picked up somewhat of a foreign language and therefore fit perfectly for the position of editors/translators, or even better, to the stage of highly qualified people from lower-standard contries all over the world, as seems to be the case with Mr Vadim Kadyrov’s successful career:

      “I have climbed this ladder from the very bottom. I started my career when I was at the university (at 20), and the rates I used to charge then seem now ridiculous. Laughable. (To tell you the truth, a lot of local translators still work for these peanuts). Then slowly, year after year, I was gradually realizing that there were other clusters of clients and/or markets where you can get 10-20 times more.”
      https://engrutra.wordpress.com/who-am-i-to-educate-you/

      Most of Bulgarian translators will share Mr Kadyrov’s seemingly reasonable idea of getting a better pay.

      Like

  8. Thank you for your comment and contribution.

    I am sure I missed a lot of other developments in my brief history of translation industry. But it is a start

    Like most translators, I live in my private, unique cocoon where reality, if it intrudes into my world, is only reluctantly and grudgingly acknowledged.

    I believe that writing my silly blog really helps in this respect.

    Like

  9. Reblogged this on Behind the Enemy Lines.

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  10. “A new clause that is being put into these contracts as of last year is an illegal “on-site auditing” clause, namely the right of the translation agency to visit and inspect the premises of the translators, as well as to access remotely translators’ computer, ostensibly “to check the proper setting of the security software”. It would be illegal to conduct these kinds of raids on people’s homes in most countries on this planet, with the possible exception of North Korea.”

    This is not North-Korean grotesqueness, but the ILO Home Work Convention in action: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C177

    Bulgaria is among the few countries that have ratified this convention, so we have it all in great detail in our national Labor Code: visits, inspections, etc. BUT only on condition the home-based EMPLOYEE (a translator in our case) has been employed under an EMPLOYMENT contract AND has given a WRITTEN consent to his/her EMPLOYER. Nothing to do with any enslaving 10-page long pseudo-contracts as described by you.

    The USA have not ratified the Convention yet:
    http://wiego.org/informal-economy/ratification-countries-home-based-workers-c177

    A home-based employee enjoys regular pay, free technical equipment and support, paid annual leave, paid sick leave, etc. etc. Few people know about these benefits, though.

    Here’s an attempt at promoting telework employment in a jocular way:

    Courtesy of Google Translate:

    “According to the Labour Code the employer must provide for its own account a few things. Among them are required to perform telework equipment”

    — Chief, have to buy me a computer!

    “As well as supplies for its operation.”

    — Chief, do my paper in the printer. Buy me one package!

    —- Eeey that when finished? What do you Printemps so much, huh?

    —- Iiiy Xia, stop lurking ma, work! Begaj paper!
     

    “We also need to take the program (software) security and technical maintenance and prevention.”

    — Hello, boss, break my company!
     

    “We also need to take the program (software) security and technical maintenance and prevention.”

    — Aloou, boss, I bought the new version of Microsoft!

    — Chief, time maintenance windows! You pay!

     
    “The employer shall provide and monitoring system, if it needs to be mounted in the workplace. However, it must have written consent of the employee for this, as in these cases should respect his right to privacy.”

     
    — Do you agree ?! No, no, no!

    — Please? In my house? Never Ever!

    — No you! Not allowed to watch me!

    “In teleworking enjoy holidays in a row, type and size as specified in the Labour Code, regulations, and agreements in individual and / or collective agreement.”

     
    — Chief, I leave in July!

    — And I – in August!

    — I granted twice a year – winter and summer!”

    Original publication (in BG): http://www.peticiq.com/forum/32093/start/14850#14851

    Like

  11. Rennie, I have to say, you look just the way I imagined you would probably look, except for the hat.

    Like

    • Would you then gather the courage to post a physical update of YOUR face, no matter hat or hair on or off?

      Like

  12. Just like you, I have one on Facebook, which is a pretty recent picture taken at a pub in Prague. The one on my blog is 15 years old.

    Like

  13. Well written. I could actually hear the leper’s bell of the approaching looter in the part about the evil of money. On the part about the predatory agreements middlemen ask us to sign, I have often observed that a fool, his money and former freedom all go their separate natural ways. –

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  14. I recently a panel discussion at NYU, about MT and CAT tools. Here is the report I forwarded to my instructor, who is also worried about the intrusion of the “Machine Monster”.

    Dear xxxx,

    There’s good news and bad news! The good news is that the translations industry is thriving. The bad news is that you have to become very good friends with the translation Golem in order to thrive!

    There were six panelists: four representatives from agencies, one from the UN and a dinosaur by the name of XXXX, who teaches French in the NYU translation program, and who is vehemently opposed to machine translation and even CAT tools. She started the discussion, by telling the audience that her training and decades of experience allow her to work just as fast, if not faster, than she would with the aid off CAT tools. According to her, transitioning from a typewriter to a word processing program was the most fundamental and beneficial change in her professional life, but also the last one. Her delivery was the quintessential New Yorker mixture of ranting and whining. Then we heard from the opposite end of the spectrum, a PM from an agency that uses machine translation almost exclusively for technical translation, which is then post edited to varying degrees, based on the needs and requirements of the customer. The quality of machine translation varies depending on both the language pairs and the subject matter / field. For example it works great for Brazilian Portuguese, well for German and Scandinavian languages and badly for Hungarian, Greek etc. It works great for automotive translation, but not really well for patent translation, since it describes elaborate processes. So there is hope!

    The main message that I took away from the discussion is that there is stratification taking place, or has already taken place, within the translation industry. LSP’s are now able to deliver different products based on the needs of the customer. Someone who wants to put an ad on social media, that people may look at one, is less concerned about the quality of the translation than someone defending a patent in court. Another point that was brought up is that we have moved into an age of mediocrity, where the proper use of language is becoming less and less important. Therefore some customers question why they should pay lots of money for a grammatically perfect translation, if the target audience doesn’t know the difference. Harsh, but true! But then, there is still a market for good translations done by professionally trained translators, which the author, of the piece that you sent me, also points out.

    Other highlights of the discussion:

    The tech guru, form one of the agencies, made this statement that Google Translate is the best thing that ever happened to translators. The reason is that many people think ‘great, now I can do my own translations’; but then, when they see the garbage that comes out, realize that Google Translate is not really that great!

    The thing that was brought up over an over is the fact that there is a lower expectation in the target language. People are just not concerned with proper usage and grammar anymore.

    Agencies not only match their translators with projects based on their language pairs and specialities, but also on the CAT tools they use, because clients oftentimes demand the use of specific tools.

    Larger projects, that in the past were given to one translator, are now given to several translators accompanied with very specific software that ensures that they are all ‘on the same page’, even monitoring their speed, work habits, etc.

    This commercialization of skills is not only taking place in our industry, but in many others as well. I.e. people now longer pay attorneys, doctors etc. for advise that they can get online, or from another less expensive source.

    Like

  15. Thank you for your comment.

    I was wondering why there are daily referrals from NY University to my blog on my blog dashboard. It must be because this NYU course probably mentioned my blog.

    Like

    • Could be. You should try to get a referral fee for that.

      Like


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