One difference between humans and animals is that animals such as dogs or cats don’t use words because they have no need for words to express and communicate the reality surrounding them. What a dog can say by wagging its tail and licking your face (or by barking and baring big canine teeth), or what a cat can say by purring and mewing (or by pissing on the floor), is more than what just about any human can express in any number of words.
Unlike dogs and cats, we humans need to use words in order to express what we mean. And once we allow other people to define our reality in their words, we are often unable to determine on our own whether these words mean what we think they do. Words have power. That is why for example people who believe that abortions should be made illegal by the government call themselves “pro-life”, because that means that their opponents, who call themselves “pro-choice”, are “pro-death” if they believe that this is a decision that should not be made by a pregnant woman and her doctor, but by her government.
There are many examples of words in our world that are used to fool people into believing something that is not true. For example, all of the words in the name of the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, sometimes also referred to as ACA, but mostly known by the ironic moniker Obamacare, are a big lie, except for the last one.
Most patients are not protected by this law. On the contrary, the law was designed to give more power to Big Pharma and private insurance companies. Even though most enrollees in Obamacare pay a lot of money every month for their “health insurance”, they often can’t afford to use it – that’s how incredibly expensive the coverage has become for most people under this law, considering the total astronomical amounts of monthly payments, copayments and deductibles. Because the law was designed by Big Pharma and private health insurance companies to safeguard the enormous profits of corporate medicine, the entire law really is just an act. The word “act” in the name of the law is therefore not a lie.
One can think of many similar examples of mendacious titles: just like there was no democracy in the now defunct German Democratic Republic, there is not much democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the People’s Republic of Korea basically belongs to its chubby leader rather than to its people, etc.
Do translators sometimes stop and think about the concepts and words that were created in the last couple of decades by “the translation industry” in order to define our reality in this particular type of service industry? Some probably do, but given how often translators talk about these concepts while repeating these words without wondering about their meaning, most of us seem to have accepted them at face value without giving them a second thought.
Here is a list of a few such words that cause me to shudder whenever I hear them, (no doubt because I am mad, which is Mad Patent Translator’s supreme prerogative).
Language Services Provider
When translators use the relatively recent term “language services providers”, often shortened to the acronym LSP, they refer to translation agencies, never to actual translators or interpreters.
But who is providing the service here, the translators and interpreters, or translation agencies? I think that the answer is clear: it is not agencies, as they only purchase services from translators and interpreters to sell them to clients at a higher price. That is why I propose that we should try to find and use a new acronym for the type of services that translation agencies provide, because many of them do provide useful services, although not the ones they claim to be providing. I propose to replace the acronym LSP (Language Services Provider) with LSB or LSR (as in Language Services Broker or Language Services Reseller).
I am open to other suggestions if somebody can come up with better terms, but so far I have received only one suggestion, namely that LSP in fact stands for Lame Services Provider.
Full Matches/”Fuzzy Matches”
These two terms were coined by a true translation agency genius who realized that since most translators are paid by the word, one way to pay them much less would be to create different categories of words, so that some words would then be worth more, some less, and some nothing.
The “translation industry” genius or geniuses then called sections of text that appeared to be quite similar or identical “full matches” and sections that are somewhat similar were called “fuzzy matches”.
This “translation industry” genius was standing on the shoulders of cunning merchants of CAT tools who were promising translators that if they start using this or that CAT tool, they would double, triple or quadruple their “output” (meaning the number of translated words). Most translators obviously thought that they would double, triple, or quadruple their income in this manner. But after a while, many translation agencies started to insist that all translators use CAT tools, usually Trados as I wrote in a post six years ago, so that they could pay them less for their translations.
Then three things happened:
1) Translators who fell for this trick and agreed to the obligatory use of Trados were forced to use Trados-anointed words, whether it made sense or not, because agencies like to recycle words from older projects.
2) They were also forced to produce more words than before the arrival of Trados and other CAT tools. But instead of making more money thanks to CATs, they were now making considerably less money than they used to only about a decade ago, while some agencies made out like bandits because translation agencies don’t necessarily need to pass on savings obtained by shortchanging translators to their customers, unless a client ask for it – and most don’t.
3) Some translators use CATs because they find them very useful for certain types of translations. But although CATs are useless or counterproductive in many translation fields including mine, obligatory discounts for “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” are now demanded by many translation agencies from all translators.
And although these demands are in fact just crude attempts at wage theft, once the reality is redefined for us by people who can profit from a redefined reality, these attempts will be made in many cases.
Post-Processing of Machine Translations
The idea behind post-processing of machine translations, sometimes also called editing, is that while machine translation has made great progress over the last half a century or so, and especially in the last decade, it is still not “quite as good as human translation” and that is why humans need to “post-process” or “edit” the raw MT output.
But as a translator who deals with machine translation very frequently, I happen to know that this description of machine translation could not be farther from the truth. I have been using machine translations of patents to get an idea of what is in the original languages for more than a decade, but I don’t “post-process” or “edit” machine translations to sell them as real translations to my clients. I would naturally be tempted to do it this way if it could work, but it is a method that does not work.
If the method is to be applied correctly, (and how else should it be applied?), “post-processing” or “editing” of machine translations would mean that all mistakes in the machine translation output must be corrected by the translator.
This means that the translator would need to compare the machine-translated output to the original text word-by-word, and then go back to the machine translation and input corrections into the raw machine-translated output. But there are so many mistakes on so many levels in every machine translation that it is more time consuming, usually much more time consuming, to try to translate in this manner, than simply to translate from scratch. Instead of occasionally looking at the machine-translated output and using it as a dictionary, the post-processing concept means that the translator is expected to follow the original text and constantly compare it to the machine-translate output, while “fixing things” on the fly. But in real life, with real translations, it does not work this way.
Machine translation does save me time if I can use it basically as or instead of a dictionary, although of course with many caveats. But to try and “edit” machine translation would mean wasting a lot of time, while the product would still necessarily contain mistakes and inaccuracies that will not always be caught by “the post-processor”.
What people who are using translators as “post-processors” or “editors” of machine translations really want from these translators is to have them retranslate a text in a foreign language, while pretending that all these “post-processors” need to do is just some kind of light editing of a machine translation, so that they can pay them much less than they might have to pay a real human translator.
In other words, it is yet another blatant attempt at wage theft by creating a monster, called “post-processed machine translation”, that is neither human nor machine.
I am actually not sure whether this term was coined by “the translation industry” or by translators themselves. As I wrote in another recent post which received a lot of comments from outraged translators but not many Facebook likes, as far as many translators are concerned, outsourcing is an ugly, dirty word and a wayward practice that real, pure translators would never engage in.
I think that this is an extremely ill-informed and myopic perspective.
What happens when a translator says no to a direct client, for example if a direct client asks for a translation in a different language direction and the translator, who may be unable to suggest a colleague, simply says no to the client because he only translates Mongolian to Russian but not Russian to Mongolian?
Something like this could easily happen to any translator who works mostly for direct clients. It is not just an impossible example designed to make a point. A law firm asked me recently whether I could translate some documents from Maltese for them. So I went online, and in a few minutes I found a Maltese translator and told the client that, yes, I could do it.
I think that “outsourcing” is the wrong term. When GM closes the shop in Detroit and sends the jobs to Mexico or China, that is what outsourcing means.
But when a translator ignores a job from a direct client that he or she could manage (although there would be a learning curve and risks, of course), this job is lost to this translator and outsourced to the “translation industry”.
Had I said no, the client would have gone online and the translation would most likely be “outsourced” to a corporate translation agency, because unlike most translators, translation agencies generally do not say no to clients.
The term “outsourcing” does not make a whole lot of sense to me because what some translators call “outsourcing” should really be called “insourcing” if the work stays within the community of translators, and it should be called “outsourcing” only if it is “outsourced” to the brokers in the community of translation agencies.
I am not saying that every translator should think like an agency. But I am saying that those of us who are unable to go outside of our comfort zone when a client asks for something that we cannot translate ourselves are outsourcing to “the translation industry” translations that we ourselves could probably organize much better than a large translation agency.
ISO or EN-Certified Translations
This concept was definitely designed by “the translation industry”, most likely by a translation agency marketing manager, because although it is a concept that is very valuable for marketing purposes, otherwise it is of absolutely no value whatsoever.
As I wrote in another post, certification of thinking processes taking place in the heads of people called translators, who may or may not know what they are doing, is obviously nonsense. However, since so many clients don’t know much about translation, it is a popular and useful advertising gimmick.
The ISO or EN certification model is a set of rules originally designed for manufacturing industrial products. The certification does not say anything about the education, experience and qualifications of the translator, which is what really determines whether the translation is likely to be good, mediocre, or full of errors.
I don’t advertise “ISO-certified translations” as a service that I provide. But since my translations of patent applications are often used as evidence in court, when a client asks me whether I provide certified translations, I respond that of course I do indeed provide certified translations for a slight surcharge.
But the certification that I provide for my translation is not based on industrial standards that were originally designed for products such as cars, hamburgers and diapers.
Instead, I am simply stating in my certification that I as an experienced patent translator stand by my work. And after almost 30 years of experience in the field of patent translation, what I am stating in my certification is not just an advertising gimmick.