Jul 3, 2014

Let them eat cake (in translation)!

Ya really gotta wonder what kind of Kool Aid is guzzled by those social anarchists mistakenly called "conservatives". No outrage is beyond them, no depraved indignity too great in the Pursuit of Capital. We look askance at North Korea, rightly so, but fail to notice that particular interests have long since stepped in to offer their puppet Great Leaders to the sheeple afraid of a freedom which tolerates difference and calls for a minimum of respect.

In the wake of the US Supreme Courts astounding, radical declaration that the "religious rights" of registered businesses trump the rights of the wage slaves they keep, when women who feel they should have a right to use an IUD for birth control and have it covered by the same health insurance that covers Viagra and vasectomies are casually called Nazis and perhaps worse, ya really gotta wonder what latter-day Kesey is running around spiking the juice in the Cuckoo's Nest.

We have our share of those in translation too. More than our share, as a friend in Bairro da Câmara rightly observed. Todos os tradutores são loucos. Not all perhaps. Yet. Give the hamstermeisters in the Big Agencies a little more time to MpT your brains and the day will come. Their acolytes have been ejaculating in prayer for a long time now in service of their algorithmic subcommunicative gods of pseudotranslation and professional degradation. Yoga instructors have even joined their cause to teach wordworkers to bend over just a little farther to receive their labor's rewards.

In her eagerness to show flexibility in her professional standards and squash the "unfounded rumors" that there might have been some quality issues, such as machine-translated content or just general sloppy garbage on the web site of voracious venture capital consumer Smartling, Ms. Bell wrote:
January 16, 2014, German translator Kevin Lossner Tweeted that a business in our space was “toxic waste” and “a load of crap” because he thought the company had machine translated its site (they hadn’t)
Screenshots from Smartling's web site taken on January 16, 2014. Jus' mah 'magination?

What can be done about the rising tide of mediocratizers and profiteering liars who give the many good eggs in translation technology a whiff of rotten odor? Recently in a PuffPo piece, Smartling apologist Nataly Kelly tried to claim how that "so many" translators hate translation technology. Her perspective might be skewed given that many do in fact hate the dysfunctional, browser-based translation interface offered by the aggressive venture capital guzzler Smartling, her employer, but the truth is that as support technologies for translation have improved and early misconceptions based on the primitive functions of old technologies like Trados Workbench and Wordfast Classic are slowly displaced by real knowledge of modern productivity tools, many "technophobes" have casually embraced what might have once seemed a daunting technology. But the same person who brought you the argument that translators will soon go the way of blacksmiths, to be replaced by the technology her owner offers, has a certain pecuniary interest in making us all seem like dippy, frightened housespouses desperate to pick up a little mad money for shoes or to get the kiddies' over-sugared teeth fixed. Really, Jayne Fox said it better and in touch with reality.

The desperation of the MpT interests, the clownsourcers and other linguistic riffraff has been growing visibly in recent months, as their attacks escalate on "haters and naysayers", who oppose the greedy cabal by suggesting that translation quality is still possible by emptying your mind of MpT thoughts. It all so much resembles the desperation of COBOL programmers at the dawn of a new millennium, scamming in those Y2K bucks as fast as they could before their Emperor's knockoff duds were revealed for what they are and the limits of their 2 cm caralhos of competence became all too apparent. MT hasn't gone where it claims it will in more than 50 years and it's not going now where the carnival barkers claim it will if you part with six or seven figures of major Western currency cash. Or as some would have it and go cheap by gargling your confidential translations and following the advice of some "gurus" to throw out considerations of law and ethics.

What can be done? Stop listening to the relentless propaganda of the commercial interests who have neither the interests of language service providers like translators, editors, writers and interpreters at heart nor the interests of the successful clientele whom the good ones serve with pleasure and skill. Most importantly, unplug the noise machines of "professional translator associations" who are too often becoming sellout puppets to commercial interests and are too often merely adding their wheezing voices to the chaos of the translation profiteering echo chamber. In their own separate ways, newer organizations and watering holes for wordwalkers like Stridonium and IAPTI are taking necessary risks to ensure that a place will remain in the future of translation for ethical service of the quality needed to move beyond the bulk market bog.

I'll be talking about a few of these matters in between shots of ouzo and poetry slams at IAPTI's 2nd International Conference in Athens, Greece on September 20th & 21st. Get to know the professionals with backgrounds in engineering, physics, law and other disciplines who get under the skin of the hamstermeisters so much that one recently called them "Shiites". That reminds me of an agency friend who for years has referred to my direct clients (and many of my agencies) as Die Ahnungslosen, because they foolishly pay a mere freelance translator more than that company's clients will usually give to a "full service" agency. There are other places to run with your language business than the HAMPsTr wheel. Come to Athens or come to a Stridonium event and see a much brighter side of translation.

Oh yea, and click around on those pics above for your reading pleasure....


  1. The comparison between Yoga and Translation valid up to a point. As far as qualification and accreditation go, it has some merit, but other than that the two professions differ significantly.

    What Ms. Bell in the Yoga post refers to as love, I refer to from a practical viewpoint as basic respect and ethics. Those are missing in some (arguably large) segments of the translation marketplace.

    I also disagree with her on the statement "But this is where the translation industry out and out fails. Not so much language service providers (LSP) but most definitely the freelance community, which is translation’s skeletal system". Some agencies - the broker type of agency - (and their associates) have introduced and promoting many unethical and abusive practices, which probably steered some amount of "hate" towards them. Also, not all translators (or agencies) are part of the industry, some actually practice their professions

    The statement "LSPs may be circulatory, bringing the financial life blood our industry needs to thrive, but translators themselves are the bones at the base of it all." is also too generalized. Agencies are not the lynchpin of the market, certainly not the broker type. The attempt to paint themselves as patrons of translators (vile) and convince translators and clients how important and essential they are, have only contributed to the formation of the great divide in the translation marketplace between the bulk and premium markets.
    I hardly think that yogis face the same attack on their profession from those who pretend to represent it.

    All we need in the translation marketplace is LOVE (Less Opportunistic Vile Egocentrics) - this definition is just out of the top of my head, it could use some refinement.

  2. Less Overpaid Vomit-inducing Exortionists

  3. The Huff post piece was clearly commercial writing to promote Smartling but I'm not convinced the platform is quite the devil's spawn it is made out to be here. I haven't used it but I have seen a demo and read some of the marketing collateral. My feeling is that it is currently an attempt to automate out LSPs who may not provide much value for certain types of content (web + mobile). Clearly their intention is to become something more general for bigger volumes of document translation but they definitely need to improve their production environment for that kind of work.

    My problem as an IT translator is unlike the legal practice work or financial reports I am almost always paying for the PM who manages the other languages. If that PM is automated out of the equation and I can work more or less directly for a client via a web-platform all the better for me and the client I think. I can't see how it is anything but wasteful to have a PM volleying fast changing content from websites like Vimeo over and back between translators and buyers via e-mail and there is a growing market for that kind of translation. It doesn't have to be badly paid just because it is coming in via a web-based platform though if it is the kind of translation work anyone can do it is probably naive to expect it to be well as well paid as, say, complex developer specs.

    I also like the fact that it advertises the fact that it does not have a bidding system. Bidding is always a signal that price is more important than quality.

    For larger jobs I understand you can download XLIFF, TMX, TBX - though obviously you have to think of that before you start the job and not everyone will (oops my ISP is on the blink, darn I shoulda used MemoQ or OmegaT from the get go!). Obviously, TIPP export would be ideal or better still TIPP + synchronised shared TM / glossary for multi-translator work + private TMs and glossaries but that is an easy one to implement (OmegaT + webstart + SVN).

    Just to keep my cards on the table I will say I met the CEO in Dublin so I am a bit biased by that. Reading between the lines of this post you can tell I am pushing to see OmegaT used more by web-based systems instead of reinventing the wheel with web-based CAT tools. Is there any web-based tool that is better than OmegaT on any level? As with GlobalSight I see them as an income source for larger features that will help the standalone application.

    I still think they are finding their feet on the production side so I am inclined to give the company a bit of time to see if it can become a positive force for translators in terms of per hour earnings. Simple things like Trados shortcuts could make a big difference and web-based tools are great for A/B testing new technology like different approaches to predictive typing (though the instrumented version of OmegaT will do that too).

    All that takes money but they seem to have a lot of capital yet to spend. If they can innovate on the production side like they have already innovated on the sales side I don't really care if some right-leaning VC I'll never meet gets rich. If they end up spending all that money on marketing that helps cheaper systems to sell a similar service then I'll be the first to say I was wrong.

    I can still have a good phone relationship with a client in Berlin if they are sending me their web-pages to translate via Smartling or a similar system instead of e-mail. Workflow technology doesn't necessarily have to depersonalise (though I fully accept it can if you let it).


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