Posted by: patenttranslator | May 29, 2015

The Uncommon Absurdity of the Term “Language Technology”

What is the technology of thinking?

Well, language could be called one of the techniques or technologies of thinking. Art is another one. Mathematics is the preferred technology of thinking for some people, or chemistry, for example, although not for nearly as many as art if we include under the term art visual art, music, cinematography and other art forms that would also have to be included.

For some reason, nobody has proposed yet to call for example typewriters, calculators, computers, word processors and other software “tools of thought technology”, although we use all of these and many other tools as thought and mind expanding paraphernalia.

Maybe it is obvious to most people that the term “thought technology” or “technology of thinking” would be a really stupid and laughable term because most people, even those of us who are not exactly great thinkers, understand that thinking takes place in the brain and it has in fact nothing to do with the tools that are used during the act of thinking because you don’t need any of these tools to think. All you need to be able to think is to have a brain.

Translation is also a product of thinking, and it also occurs (without any tools or technology!) in the brain, human brain, in particular, as opposed to animal brain.

We love our dogs and other animals, but we can’t translate our languages to animals so that they would be able to understand exactly what we are trying to say to them. We may think that they understand us, but they just react to sounds, gestures and situations in a way that looks as though they understand us. Smart as they are, they have figured out centuries ago that this is the best way to get the more and better food from us.

Although we can train dogs to react to certain words in human languages, dogs don’t understand human languages like English, or Japanese, or Czech because they have no use for odorless, tasteless, boring human languages. Who needs a language when God gave you the great and incredibly versatile gift of a wagging tail, which is something that would do wonders for humans if they still had one and learned how to use it properly? Although humans originally did have a tail, since they were not using it to express how much they like or fear other humans, dogs and other creatures (which would be the proper use for a tail, of course), it atrophied and all that is left from it now is a completely useless little appendage of the vertebral column called in humans tailbone.

Dogs are so smart that they can sniff out cancer, which is something that no doctor can do, and they can read our mind better than our spouses or children, but their language is very different from human languages, and humans do not understands it, with the possible exception of a little Mexican man by the name of Cesar Millan, now known worldwide from a TV show as The Dog Whisperer.

But I am getting away again from the topic of my sermon today which is supposed to be about the ridiculousness of the new term “language technology”.

Unlike the nonexistent term “thought technology” which to my knowledge has not been introduced into our world, probably because nobody has figured out yet how to make money from something like that, the term “language technology” already exists, and lot of people are trying to figure out how to make money by throwing around this term in what is called “the translation industry” for lack of a better term.

This is not the first time that “the translation industry” invented a new, absurd term, nor is it likely to be the last time.

The term “LSP” is another example of how language can be used to give new meaning to an old concept in order to confuse people.

“The translation industry” came up with this term about 10 years ago, I think. I was told that the term Language Services Provider (LSP) was originally proposed to include both translators and translation agencies. But translators are definitely excluded from this term now, as it now only means “translation agency”, not “translator”.

It is clear to me that “the translation industry” came up with this term to hide the fact that a translation agency is a translation agency, is a translation agency. In other words, a middleman, or a facilitator of services, as opposed to a provider of services. Translation services are provided by translators, some translators sell these services to agencies instead of selling them directly to their clients, and that is how translation agencies make money.

But if you start calling a translation agency “a language services provider” instead of “a translation agency”, translators completely disappear from the picture and it looks as though the service is in fact provided by the translation agency. Better yet, use an acronym like LSP to confuse the world even more.

I wrote several posts about the term “LSP” a while ago and you can read one of them here in case you are interested in my take on it and in the ensuing discussion.

Many translators already obediently parrot the “translation industry” lingo and call translation agencies “LSPs”, apparently without realizing that they themselves are providing translation services, not the agencies who are simply buying and reselling their services.

However, as I wrote in one of my posts about the term “LSP”, since only people who work in or for “the translation industry” know what the acronym means, the attempt to introduce yet another misleading term into our vocabulary was only partially successful.

Let us finally get back to the interesting new term “language technology”.

According to Wikipedia, the term “language technology” was introduced by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) in 2013. Wikipedia is on occasion full of misinformation, but they are probably right in this case.

You can for example obtain a Master of Science degree in Human Language Technology (HLT) from the University of Arizona which defines Human Language Technology as “a developing interdisciplinary field that encompasses most subdisciplines of linguistics, as well as computational linguistics, natural language processing, computer science, artificial intelligence, psychology, philosophy, mathematics, and statistics”.

But “the translation industry” uses a much narrower interpretation of the term “language technology”. I don’t think that it would include psychology and philosophy of linguistics, since “the translation industry” is only interested in psychology and philosophy of marketing and sales.

I think that the term “language technology” means mostly just computer-assisted translation (CAT), and above all machine translation as far as “the translation industry” is concerned.

Just like the term “translation agency” in the industry parlance was replaced by “language service provider” because it sounds so much better, and then by an acronym that nobody outside of “the translation industry” understands, some movers and shakers in “the translation industry” must have decided two years ago that it was time to do something about the term the machine translation palatable to clients. This term does not sound so good either because most people have at least some experience with machine translation, and the experience is mixed at best.

So it was time to replace the term “machine translation” by another term, and “language technology” clearly sounded so much better.

The American Translators Association (ATA) has had a Language Technology Division since 2013, and it is in fact right now looking for a Language Technology Administrator (isn’t it time they started calling these Administrators Tsars?), although there is not much information on the ATA website about what this ATA division. When I clicked on the linked term on the ATA website, this was what I got:

“Are technology and delicious food a 100% match?

Language Technology Division Dinner and Networking Event

After a long day of sessions and learning, join your LTD fellows to get the conversation started and dive together into a revitalizing river of gorgeous fresh vegetables and mouth-watering fire roasted meats delivered right to your plate”
Get your taste buds ready for:
– A copious buffet of chilled salads, fresh vegetables, hot side dishes, imported cheeses and cured meats (even Serrano ham!).
– Caramelized bananas, garlic mashed potatoes, crispy polenta, and Brazilian cheese bread served to your table.
– Fire roasted meats, including beef, chicken, pork, lamb and sausages, served to your tableside by their Gauchos in their swords.
– Dessert choices.
– Unlimited fountain beverages, coffee and tea.
The price for the dinner is a $74.

Well, maybe the Language Technology Division is a secret ATA’s moneymaker because I generally pay only about 30 dollars for a pretty good meal in a pretty good restaurant with a pretty good view, including a glass of wine and coffee (I skip the dessert).

So the term “language technology” may be after all a useful invention rather than an absurd and vague term as I originally thought, another absurd term that does not really mean anything, or if it does mean something, then it would be very different things to different people, since at the end of my analysis of this new term I ended up at a copious buffet with chilled salads, (even Serrano ham!), crispy polenta and caramelized bananas.


  1. Translation services provision is not simply a sale or resale. In a sale, three main parties are involved: a client, a trader and a producer. In the translation “sale”, the parties are only two: the client and the agency. The producer remains unknown.


  2. It depends on the agency.

    I don’t hide anything. When I am asked by clients why my prices are more expensive for languages that I don’t translate myself, I explain that I charge more because I have to pay another translator.

    And when I work for an agency, I don’t begrudge them the profit that they make from my work either. As long as they pay me a good rate, I will gladly work for them.

    A good translation agency has its rightful place in the translation marketplace.

    Unfortunately, a very small percentage of them could be described as good ones, most of them jumped on the extremely exploitative, really ugly crapitalistic bandwagon.


  3. “I explain that I charge more because I have to pay another translator.”

    And what do you explain to the other translator? That YOU have a client?


  4. I don’t know what you mean.

    I just placed two Chinese articles with a translator. There is nothing to explain to the translator. She knows how things work. And when an agency sends me a job for translation, they don’t need to explain anything to me anything either.

    (I can’t really read Bulgarian, I can maybe understand simple sentences, but that’s it).


  5. “And when an agency sends me a job for translation, they don’t need to explain anything to me anything either.”

    Ah, you know the agency HAS a client.

    “I can’t really read Bulgarian, I can maybe understand simple sentences, but that’s it.”

    You haven’t even clicked on the link! It’s not in Bulgarian.


  6. I clicked on it and it was in Bulgarian.

    Over and out.


    • You kidding? A translator shouldn’t have any difficulty finding the text. It’s in English… OK, in Bulgarish 🙂 (thank you, Google Translate!) … but it’s not totally incomprehensible after all. Or, is it?


  7. I must admit that the bit that I liked the most was your description at the very end of your “copious banquet”. I guess I am hungrier than I realised and that it’s time to feed the inner-man!! 🙂


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