Jul 13, 2014

Mice Like Us

Among my great passions are myths and children's stories. The transformative, symbolic qualities of the good ones carry forward ideas, moral and ethical concepts in ways few classrooms can, and even bad ones may communicate at a level many a gifted orator cannot.

In many ways, the translators I know are like mice. They see themselves as small compared to the great Bridges Lying Across their peripatetic professional paths, easy prey for the More Ravenous, to be consumed perhaps by HAMPsTr hordes or Transformed Perfectly into thepigturds polluting the waters of roadside ditches.

The Merchants of the Machine - and you know who they are - have a story line consumed gladly by those who, placing presumed balance sheet profits ahead of real producers and lacking a long-term commitment to service and the interests of those from whom they extract toil and cash, position themselves as transformers of communication and translation, surfing the Big Wave of Big Data to a Bigger Future. Humans are fallible, alas, but the miraculous Machine in its comprehensible simplicity shall save us from the messy human mystery and lead us to a calculable future, a Thousand Years of Grace and Prosperity for the Chosen in control of the channels of distribution and marketing magic. But real life isn't like that.

We need a different narrative. As Dr. Bronowski said, "We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act." In alternative narratives, the mouse is not always the easy prey to the CAT, nor to any other creature. It's a matter of attitude, and sometimes organization.

From the simple act of kindness in Aesop's tale to the complex world of Redwall, we mice can read examples of how those seen as small and insignificant can in fact be the key to survival and triumph. Lacking the bluster and flames of the Great Beasts of our "industry" we must instead rely on those most essential tools, our brains, to come out ahead in the asymmetric competition.

Technology is, in fact, on our side as translators when it is used in conjunction with BAT*. There are Open Source tools available for organizing the work of individual translators or teams which, in clever hands, can compete at most every level with the finest of commercial technology. OmegaT, Rainbow and GlobalSight are just a few of a long list of these. And for the less "clever" (or those who prefer a bigger slice of normal life) there are simple software service offerings like Kilgray's memoQ cloud, which puts my freelance team on equal footing with any agency or corporate department using the latest and greatest technologies for their language processes. All this for a fraction of what my monthly phone bill used to be in the days before flatrates and Skype.

So what will it be? Will you be willing meat for some weasel's pot?

Caught in a trap of your own denial, uninformed belief and fear, listening to naught but Common Nonsense?

Or, like the mice of Redwall, will you gather your strength and skills, apply them in concert with like-minded professionals in your own interest and the interest of the public you serve and partake of the great feast on a table set for all who will come?

* Brain-assisted translation


  1. I love the BAT. :) I'm all with you on this.

  2. Nice piece.

    A couple of links in case any agency owners or translators with large projects do want to work with GlobalSight / OmegaT with the warm fuzzy feeling paid support provides...



    Okapi and OmegaT also have very helpful user lists. GlobalSight will have a better website for user support quite soon.

  3. Some good advice on how to avoid the Mouse Trap! As a cheese-lover, I for one am definitely in favor of keeping a sharp lookout. It's not a bad idea to keep an eye out for the farmer's wife, either ;-)


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