Archive for March 2017

A better life for professional translators [research project]

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By Marie Lebert, updated in January 2019.

Are there some solutions to improve the precarious life led by many professional translators? Are there some solutions for our society to acknowledge (again) the translators’ major impact on knowledge, science, education, business and culture in the global world we live in?


* Short biography
* Previous research project
* New research project


Short biography

I am a bilingual French-English linguist, researcher and writer who has lived and worked on five continents — in Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

I have worked as a linguist for international organizations for more than twenty years, lately for International Correspondents in Education, and in the past for the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Since I was granted a doctorate in linguistics (digital media) by the Sorbonne University in 2000, I have conducted research relating to digital technology and languages.


Previous research project

My first research project (2000-16) focused on the hard work of linguists and other professionals to make the web truly multilingual. This project was conducted with the help of 100 participants worldwide. I interviewed many colleagues in Europe, America, Africa and Asia, both online and onsite. Some of them were interviewed several times. I also interviewed them on the development of ebooks, digital publishing and digital libraries.

Linguists, librarians, engineers, developers, researchers, academics, teachers, journalists and others have helped promote their own language and culture, and other languages and cultures, while often using English as a “lingua franca”. In a short time, they have created plurilingual websites, language-related resources, reference dictionaries, multilingual encyclopedias and translation software.

My research project (2000-16) was one of the first ones (a) to be freely available on the internet (as a series of interviews, articles and ebooks); (b) to be available in three languages (English, French, Spanish); and (c) to be available in various digital formats (html, pdf, epub, kindle, daisy, text, etc.) for any electronic device.

The interviews, articles and in-depth studies were published online by the NEF (Net of French Studies), University of Toronto, Canada, before being released as ebooks in three languages in Project Gutenberg and in the Community Texts of the Internet Archive — under an international Creative Commons license — for a wider dissemination.


New research project

My research now focuses on professional translators (I am one of them) — past and present –, including their working conditions after the sea change brought by digital technology. The internet has fostered a worldwide market for translation services offered by language service providers (LSP) that act as an intermediary between clients and free-lance translators. These translators are required to work with CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools on cloud-based online translation platforms.

The translators’ working conditions have become a major issue in recent years, with few people being aware of it in society at large. Translators often work from home and have become “invisible”, with precarious employment, lower rates and the rise of unpaid volunteer translation (including crowdsourced translation) promoted by major organizations that have the necessary funds to hire many professionals, but no professional translators.

Bilingual people need more skills than two languages to become good translators. To be a translator is a profession, and also implies a thorough knowledge of a field of study. Translators are a key part of knowledge, alongside authors, academics and researchers. While this was obvious for centuries, this seems less obvious now. After being regarded as scholars alongside writers during two millennia, many translators, to their dismay, see no mention of their names on the articles, books and websites they spent days, weeks or months to translate.

Like in former times, our society should acknowledge again the translators’ major impact on society, knowledge, science, education, business and culture. Translators still believe in translation work as a labor of love and a bridge between two cultures, and still want to be considered as artists, not only for their precarious life, but also for the craft, dedication and passion they put into their work.

This new project would be based on many interviews conducted worldwide — both online and onsite. This is not an academic project. This is a project meant for everyone — everyone uses translated work all the time. We need a better perception and recognition of the translators’ hard work in past and present times.

I self-funded my first research project (2000-16), which was very hard at times. For my second research project, I need to find significant funding, and the support of a major organization.


Copyright © 2017-19 Marie Lebert

Written by marielebert

2017/03/03 at 00:40

Posted in Uncategorized