Posted by: patenttranslator | May 11, 2017

Look What They’ve Done to My Brain

The last twelve notes from music that I was listening to on my radio today, just before I went to sleep, were hidden deep down in my subconscious all night long while I was sleeping.

Until they emerged again, unexpectedly, the next morning.

It was not the music of spheres, resonating throughout the universe all the way to my bedroom. I eventually recognized them as the first twelve notes from a movement of Dvorak’s “In Nature’s Realm”. I could not remember the rest of the music, only the twelve notes that were floating around and around in my brain for what seemed like hours.

I could not get rid of them until I turned on the radio to chase them away with other music.

It happens to me every now and then, for instance when I drive my car and listen to a music station – hours later I sometimes start hearing the last oldie that was on the radio just before I turned it off. It’s usually just a tiny fragment of the song that somehow does not want to let go of my ears hours later until it is finally chased away by a different tune.

The Germans call it “einen Ohrwurm haben” – to have a worm in one’s ear, and that’s exactly what it feels like.

Just like fragments of music can infect our ears with well hidden music worms, invisible messages containing fragments of information, misinformation, and propaganda can infect our conscience without our knowledge or approval.

This is basically what modern marketing is based on, and that is precisely why we are subjected to a marketing overload from the moment we wake up in the morning and look at our smartphone: the idea is to keep planting worms inside of us until we fall asleep so that the worms can keep working on us overnight as we sleep.

The worms of yesterday’s information, misinformation and propaganda that were planted in our brains the day before must be reinforced and re-inserted every day.

Otherwise, in the absence of the last twelve worm fragments of information in our mind, combined with another dozen squiggly maggots of what appears to be information, we might start to think for ourselves.

And when people start thinking for themselves, what they often demand is CHANGE.

The tragicomical Brexit fiasco, the undemocratic selection of Donald by the Electoral College Trump (as opposed to a democratic election) to the office of US president despite his loss to an almost equally unpopular presidential candidate by millions of votes, and the recent victory in the French presidential election of a young candidate who is so new (relatively speaking) that he has yet to form a political party as I am writing another silly post, coming on the heels of a win by an equally young politician in Canada, who like so many other politicians coasted to victory on the strength of a famous name, clearly show that the whole world is hungry for CHANGE.

Most people may not be quite sure what kind of change they want, but the one thing that people living in different countries and on different continents know for certain is that they do want a change from the current status quo because they see that things don’t work for them the way they used to.

One of the most powerful catalysts for change is technology. From the technology of the printing press, which after more than a thousand years canceled out the monopoly of the Catholic Church on the interpretation of the Bible, to streaming, which made mighty cable TV companies irrelevant to millennials, it is clear that no matter how well established and powerful a government or an industry may be, it better keep a watchful eye on what is happening in the technology sector.

The translation industry is certainly eager to embrace technological change by promoting what it calls language technology. It constantly demands that invisible peons working in its entrails (that it refers to as “Dear Linguists”) adopt as many labor-saving language technology tools as possible and use these tools in their daily work.

The reason for this demand is clear: the more “Dear Linguists” use this language technology, the less money they will make and the more profit will thus be left over for the movers and shakers in the translation industry, the rightful owners of “Dear Linguists.”

The push for obligatory adoption of so-called language technology tools started about fifteen years ago with the demand for obligatory use of CATs, Trados in particular, because these tools made it possible to reduce the word count by a large margin, and word counts are the basis on which most translators are paid.

This particular wage theft scheme was perpetrated so successfully by the translation industry that most translators who send me their résumés, and all newbie translators, proudly and prominently list their mastery of Trados software as evidence of their professional qualifications, along with a statement that “rates are always negotiable.”

Instead of providing proof of professionalism based on their education and experience, translators advertise their willingness to be cheated out of remuneration for their work by the way CATs are used by the translation industry. They are so desperate for work that they are begging the translation industry to abuse them as much as possible, in exchange for a promise of work.

The next chapter of technological change in the translation industry is likely to be based on editing of machine translation by invisible human beings who, although they are not quite translators, should theoretically be able to edit the raw output of machine translation systems that are riddled with well hidden mistranslations so as to remove most mistranslations from this output.

These people, not quite translators, called post-processors or editors (or even copy editors!) of machine translations, would be paid even less than translators who are forced by the translation industry to use the larcenous scheme of how language technology tools ought to be applied by the obedient peons.

The last time I was contacted by a translation agency to become a machine translation “copy editor” I was offered the princely sum of 1 cent per word for “copy editing” of machine translations.

The changes resulting from new technology can be beneficial to us, but they can be also harmful, depending on whether we are able to use new technology for ourselves, or whether we allow other people to use it against us.

Some people swear by CATs and say they could no longer translate without them. Some people, myself included, never used them and never will because they find them too constricting and unsuited to their particular field of translation.

Many translators, myself included, use machine translations, but only use them for their own purposes rather than for the translation industry’s purposes.

When I have access to machine translation, which is most of the time because most patent application can now be easily translated for free from just about any language into English with a few mouse clicks, I print out a machine translation to use as a resource listing technical terms that I may, or may not, use in my own translation.

But what I would never do with machine translation is what the translation industry tells me that I should be doing with it – namely edit out the hidden mistranslation worms from it to transform it into real translation.

Even if translators were paid hourly rates commensurate with their education, skills and experience for post-processing of machine translation, which they most certainly will not be, most translators understand that to edit machine translations is the wrong way to go for the myriad reasons I keep mentioning on my blog.

In my field of patent translation, probably the most important reason why such a practice must be avoided is the fact that precisely because the machine translations may at first glance look very good, many mistakes that are unlikely to be caught by a post-processor will necessarily creep into the final translation.

It is relatively easy to banish the nuisance of an unwanted ear worm of music from our consciousness. All we have to do is turn on the radio and listen to different music.

It is much more difficult to resist the worms that are being planted in our consciousness by the translation industry, an industry that is celebrating technology tools and equating them with a valid replacement for human brains.

But tools are only tools. They cannot replace human brains. They can be very useful to us, but only if we use them for our own purposes.

But they can also do a lot of damage to translation, the product of our work, and to our profession, if we allow the translation industry to use these tools against us.



  1. “because these tools made it possible to reduce the word count by a large margin”, true, but more importantly, submitting translations in CAT format provides the intermediaries with the inputs that will be used for future discounting of repeats and provides the corpora for MT (profiting from the translator’s intellectual input for at no expense)

    In other words, many would-be translators and even some of our professional colleagues are enthusiastically digging their own vocational graves in the knowledge that it will speed up their professional demise.

    Einstein may be right when he said: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, both the word count larceny and providing unwittingly corpora for future reuse are big problems. Most translators probably perceive only the former as a problem because it is so obvious, without even thinking about the the fact that giving so much control to intermediaries over our work may be even more dangerous in the long run.

    I’ll tell you, I am glad that my career in the translation business is slowly coming to an end, which means that I don’t have to worry too much about what is going on right now and even worse things to come.

    I have been incredibly lucky given that I was able to raise a family on a single, uncertain income of a freelance translator for the last 30 years.

    I don’t know if I would be able to do that now as a translator working under the conditions created for us in the brave new world of modern “translation industry”.

    I kind of doubt it. I would probably have to join the wolves, become one of them and keep exploiting the hell out of other translators simply to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Steve.

    You know what is the saddest thing? It’s not only “the translation industry.” The day before yesterday I was offered a translation proofreading/editing job by a prestigious university from here via a professor I know. It was huge (900pp for the end of the month, and ideally they wanted on single person to do the job!!!!) so I would only manage to do part of it. Before accepting my share I asked to have a look at it and it was shocking – it read completely machine-translated, grammar was wrong, some sentences didn’t make sense at all (and it was academic content, academic language on Art History and Architecture). Basically, the job was MT post-editing (people don’t always mention that to you, I have fallen into that trap a couple of times but now know better before accepting without having a proper read of the material, even form trustful sources). I politely refused (as I have said, I am friends with the professor who recommended me for the job – she doesn’t work in that specific university so she didn’t know about the quality of the translation – because I didn’t want to burn any bridges) explaining that given the bad quality of the translation that would take the same amount of time as if I was translating it – if not more – and I just didn’t have the time. If universities are prepared to take that route I don’t know what else to expect. I had read about adopting MT in that specific university a while ago but didn’t think it would make people completely lose the plot over it – because a machine takes an hour or so (or even less? or a bit more? I don’t know!) to translate all that content it doesn’t mean a person can do the same. Shouldn’t they know it? It’s disgraceful.


  4. So the machine translation Armageddon that I was contemplating in a previous post is already in full swing.

    I see it as a part of an overall creep of corporate fascism that is infecting every part of our society in most countries now.


  5. I am just shocked that this is happening. Nobody could have possibly seen this coming. We have all been blind sided.


  6. Well, George Orwell foresaw it already about 70 years ago.

    But most people thought it was mostly just fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Orwell predicted the MT tornado 80 years ago in 1937?


  8. Kind of, I think.

    He did not say “Machine translation is just like human translation”, he left that up to the modern translation industry.

    But he did say “Freedom is slavery”, “War is peace” and “Ignorance is strength”.

    All of these quotes have a distinctly Orwellian ring to them.

    And let’s not forget this quote “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “there are none so blind as those who will not see” (John Heywood,1546).


  10. While the false choice given to translators to become proficient in a given CAT platform is a matter of concern, more troubling for me is the strong trend to measure professionalism by volume (the higher, the better) and speed (the faster, the better), all in detriment of a translator’s main capital: his writing skills.

    Until we restore writing to its rightful place in the discussion of translation skills (and in the acquisition of those skills as being subservient to preexisting writing skills), we will continue to succumb to the next technology fad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Translators are not ‘given’ a false choice; they are asking for it. Not understanding the difference between being part of the gig-economy (free-lancer) and a member of a profession is the main problem.
      This analysis may help:


      • I think that, unfortunately, we are a part of the gig economy, have been for a long time. I feel that I have been a part of it for 30 years. But that does not preclude being also a professional, especially since the traditional relationships in the traditional economic system have been undermined by the corporate economic model.

        It is possible to make the gig economic work for us, although it is a lot of work and one has to be really lucky to make it work.

        But I absolutely agree with you, Louis, that too many translators don’t seem to understand that they need to behave like members of a profession, rather than accept the notion that we are just gig economy slaves, if they want to be treated like professionals.

        And that means, in my opinion, resisting and ignoring the “translation industry” and creating a different model, which I see as returning to a model that is similar to what the translation scene looked like three decades ago when I was starting out as a freelance translator (or independent translator, I know you much prefer this word).

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s exactly what I think. I have pointed out that there seems to be a big disregard for proper writing skills not only in translation but in many other fields. And translation being largely seen as a ‘task’ that only requires someone capable of understanding and speaking the basics of another language, plus the capacity of consulting glossaries and dictionaries, unfortunately leaves the profession as any easy target for magic technological solutions.


  11. “…we will continue to succumb to the next technology fad.”

    fad (n.)

    An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.

    CAD and MT are not fads.


  12. I don’t think that machine translation is a fad. I think it is a useful tool that is here to stay, in particular because it is a free alternative to human translation, although it will never be its replacement.

    But I do see CATs as a fad. They are very expensive and in the opinion of many experienced translators (Isabelle, for instance, who sometime comments here), they are very counterproductive.

    Most beginning translators think that they have to use them because translation agencies require their use (so that they could manipulate the word count and keep the money for themselves).

    I have never used them and never will because I can see how counterproductive they would be in my field of translation, as I have described in a number of posts here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: