Posted by: patenttranslator | May 20, 2016

Are You a Translator Or a Stakeholder and What Is the Difference?


A stakeholder or stakeholders, as defined in its first usage in a 1963 internal memorandum at the Stanford Research Institute, are, “those groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist.”[1] The theory was later developed and championed by R. Edward Freeman in the 1980s. Since then it has gained wide acceptance in business practice and in theorizing relating to strategic management, corporate governance, business purpose and corporate social responsibility (CSR). A corporate stakeholder can affect or be affected by the actions of a business as a whole.

 (From Wikipedia)

Stakeholder is a term that some associations calling themselves professional associations—and translator associations are among them—have been using for quite some time to describe all members of an association. This includes those who do not provide the specialized professional services that are at the core of an association of professionals and that other members are able to provide, but for a number of reasons want to be members of the association anyway.

Some translator associations do not allow non-translators to be members: they admit only people who really are translators and who can prove that they have the relevant education, credentials and experience to practice their profession for a living. Other associations will gladly admit as a member in good standing anybody who is willing to pay a yearly fee to the association.

If you wanted to, you could even register your dog as a translator with some translator associations. For example, you could call your dog Lucy Woofwoof, say that she translates Japanese to English and English to Japanese and upon payment of the membership fee, Lucy Woofwoof would become a member in good standing.

It so happens that our dog Lucy is a very smart dog as she understands both Japanese and English (to the extent that canines bother to learn a language required for communication with humans). Could she become a member of a translator association?

I really don’t see why Lucy should not be accepted by such an association, either as a translator or a stakeholder.

I am not just giving the example of my dog Lucy in jest. I read about a Slovak interpreter living in the United Kingdom who a few years ago enrolled her pet rabbit, his name was Jajo [pronounced “yayo”, which sounds like “hate it” in Japanese, although the pet owner probably doesn’t know that], as a qualified interpreter with a mega-agency that held and possibly still holds an exclusive contract with British courts for providing expert interpreting services in Midlands in protest against slashed fees paid to interpreters. Jajo was successfully enrolled as a qualified interpreter (and not just as a mere stakeholder who would be allowed to be a stakeholder-member of a professional translator association even if it were a completely monolingual rabbit). I am sure that Jajo did understand some Slovak and some English, so the brouhaha in the British press might have been just a tad exaggerated given the lax standards in some translator associations and in the “translation industry” in general.

It seems clear that the non-translating members of some translator associations are often referred to by such associations as “stakeholders” because we can’t really call them translators if they do not translate.

Judging from the Wikipedia definition of the term (everybody’s favorite resource because it is free and heavily favored by Google and other search engines), the term stakeholder was developed to describe “corporate business practices” and “corporate governance” in the 1960s and then “gained wide acceptance” in the ‘80s.

It is a word stemming from corporate culture that we all love so much. In a world in which corporations are people (and in fact they are much, much more important than mere people in our world and rightly so because they run everything and without corporate approval, nothing can go forward), we naturally need new words reflecting a new culture, handy new words like stakeholder.

Stakeholder is a very popular word in our corporatized world because it can basically mean anything you want it to, although it mostly means anybody who can make money from the work of other people, usually by investing some money first.

A different type of stakeholder also comes to my sick mind, the kind of stakeholder that was popular about 15 fifteen years ago when I used to watch a TV series with my children about vampires called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy was a sixteen year old perky blond girl who learned from a wise teacher with a British accent who just happened to be a highly experienced vampire slayer how to hold and strike a wooden stake the right way in order to thrust it into a scary vampire’s heart with precision and great force so that the evil vampire would then instantly turn to dust. That is why the word “stakeholder” sometimes makes me think about Buffy and her coterie of vampires.

I know, it is kind of infantile of me, but I sometimes miss the show, Buffy’s many skills and the look of blissful concentration on the faces of my children when they were still small while they were watching Buffy’s battles with vampires, quietly anticipating what Buffy’s next move might be.

But in fact, there is something about vampires who, although they have supernatural powers, and are about to be slayed by Buffy (unless they somehow manage to slay the teenager first), and stakeholders in translator associations have in common: they simply do not belong to our world.

At least I don’t think so. Vampires who drink human blood for sustenance, (because otherwise they would die, for real this time), do not belong to the world of mortals. And though they many be genuine humans, monolingual stakeholders (who do not translate and thus cannot make a living by translating and would go broke if translators refused to work for them), do not belong to associations of translators either. Isn’t it obvious that only translators should be able to become members of an association for translators? After all, these associations are not called “associations of translators and assorted stakeholders”.

The explanation of the term “stakeholder” in Wikipedia says, “A corporate stakeholder can affect or be affected by the actions of a business as a whole …” and corporate stakeholders in translator associations can certainly affect and be affected by the actions of, or other types of members of the association, which is to say, translators.

But according to the same definition, “… stakeholders, as defined in its first usage in a 1963 internal memorandum at the Stanford Research Institute, are those groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist.

Is that also true about associations of translators?

I don’t believe so. As I already stated, while some associations of translators will accept anyone, possibly even Jajo the Rabbit or my gentle and smart dog Lucy, some translator associations do not accept non-translating stakeholders, and as far as I know, they have not ceased to exist.

On the contrary, they seem to be doing very well, possibly because they understand that just as there really is no place for vampires in the world of the living, there is no place in associations of translators for stakeholders who need us because they make profit off of our work.

I am pretty sure that if vampires had associations, and they probably do, they would not be admitting mere mortal humans as members in good standing because vampires and humans do not really have the same interests at heart. The humans would probably try to infiltrate associations of vampires only to learn how to kill them better. Their interests are thus clearly not very compatible, and neither are their hearts, which is why one needs a special kind of sharp wooden stake and a special technique to pierce a vampire’s heart and turn it to dust.

So why do some “professional associations of translators” pretend that we are all one big happy family of “stakeholders”? Why do they pretend that since all members of this big happy family naturally have the same interests, it is perfectly fine when non-translating “stakeholders”, such as translation agencies and government bodies, or really anybody at all, can be members of the same association that advertises itself as an association of translators?



  1. Ditto with such titles as “Fellow” when used by translation associations it is meaningless. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting started awarding “fellowships”, the first person to be given one was a *non-translator* a member of the European Parliament who had championed their cause in the European parliament!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What does “stakeholder” mean really?

      We translators are in a particularly good position to ask this sort of question, especially here, since we are directly concerned.

      Words in general can be used cleverly, of course. And it’s just normal that some people use the word “stakeholder” to include us in their world.

      “stakeholder” is a particularly clever choice, since it assumes two things: that there is a world that we share, and that we share a common interest.



      • “stakeholder” is a particularly clever choice, since it assumes two things: that there is a world that we share, and that we share a common interest.”

        Because we are all one big happy family.

        Whoever came up with the word was a genius propagandist.


  2. Maybe they got the idea from “The Fellowship of the Ring”, which is the first of three volumes of the epic novel The Lord of the Rings by the English author J. R. R. Tolkien.

    If that is the case, particularly distinguished non-translating stakeholders on the hobbit level could be given titles such as Frodo Baggins, etc.


  3. Looking at it from the ‘industry’s’ perspective, translators are clearly very important if not crucial stakeholders, even though their (lack of) control over the relationship and the share of the rewards would suggest otherwise.

    From the ‘profession’s’ point of view, the ‘industry’ is not a stakeholder, but in most cases, a parasite; if the industry magically disappeared today, the profession and by extension its clients, would benefit.

    Rather than join with the ‘industry’ through their professional associations, the profession must demonstrably differentiate (and distance) itself from the ‘industry’ and the unqualified casual contract workers it uses, if it wants to survive and prosper.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. But do you really think that it will happen?


    • a journey of a thousand miles………

      Liked by 2 people

    • It can happen, if truly competent translators and truly professional translation companies can make the connection.

      But there has to be a moral and economic framework for this. That is what is lacking.


      Liked by 1 person

      • It does happen occasionally, more or less as an exception to the rule.


  5. The moment we start DOING instead of just TALKING about it with all and sundry regardless of their agenda or vested interests.
    The constitution of our institute did not get changed (in restricting membership to translator/interpreters at the exclusion of corporations) until I explained the issue and demanded it be put on the AGM’s agenda to be voted on. It did not go far enough though, in that it did not exclude para-professionals and others with vested interests like training organisations.

    The first thing that needs to be done is establishing an international database and forum that’s only accessible by properly vetted PROFESSIONAL translators, so that we can propose, discuss and decide on strategies that can be implemented immediately, like agreeing on nomenclature used in respect of professional translators rather than para-professional and would-be translators; like fees instead of rates, professional translator instead of free-lance translator, intermediaries instead of agencies (unless the latter is owned and managed by a professional translator, i.e a professional practice; etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds like IAPTI Facebook group forum.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Perhaps we can start using a new word “stickholder”, as in “someone who holds a stick to prod an association in the desirable direction”.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. But do we have a stick and if so, what is it other than quitting or threatening to quit?


  9. We ‘have’ a stick, but it’s still an undefined part of a very large tree. We need to break off a piece and whittle it into a useful weapon. Differentiation and aggregation of individual knowledge and power to leverage our position as a profession.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. No, we don’t have much of a stick. But it might help us to identify WHO actually holds the said stick, so that we can see to which direction the real stick-holders are pushing “our” association. Cui bono.

    Liked by 1 person

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