A better life for professional translators [research project]
By Marie Lebert, version of 6 March 2017.
Are there some solutions to improve the precarious life led by many professional translators?
I am a bilingual French-English social scientist (linguist) 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 (ICE, Barcelona) and the Sorbonne University (EPHE, Paris), and in the past for the International Labour Organization (ILO, Geneva) and for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, Paris).
Since I was granted a PhD in linguistics (digital media) from the Sorbonne University in 2000, I have conducted research relating to digital technology and languages.
My first research project (2000-16) focused on the hard work of linguists and other professionals to make the cultural web truly multilingual, with the help of 100 participants worldwide. The corresponding publications (interviews, articles, books) were published online by NEF, University of Toronto, before being released by Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive under a Creative Commons license – for a wide dissemination in three languages (English, French, Spanish).
My research now focuses on the sea change brought by technology in the professional translators’ working conditions, that have become a major issue in recent years. Translators are a key part of scholarship, alongside authors, professors and researchers. While this was obvious for centuries, this is less obvious now, with precarious employment and low wages on the rise. Like in former times, our society should acknowledge again the translators’ major impact on knowledge, science, literature and culture. I do hope that my research will instigate a social change for the better.
Previous research project
As a social scientist (linguist), I have focused for fifteen years (2000-16) on the hard work of linguists and other professionals to make the cultural web truly multilingual, while interviewing many colleagues in Europe, America, Africa and Asia – both online and on-site.
This research project has been one of the first ones (a) to be freely available on the internet (interviews, articles, books); (b) to be available in three languages (English, French, Spanish); and (c) to be available in various digital formats (HTML, PDF, EPUB, etc.) for any electronic device.
The final publication was “Books and articles across borders and languages (1990-2015)” – released in April 2016. As explained in the book overview, “the web quickly saw the rise of ‘linguistic democracy’ and the development of ‘language nations’, both large and small. Many dedicated people helped promoting their own language and culture, or the language and culture of others, while often using English as a lingua franca. These people were linguists, librarians, programmers, professors, researchers, etc. In a short time, they made the web truly multilingual.”
As an advocate of open access to research, all my articles and books are freely available online under a Creative Commons license. They were first published by NEF, University of Toronto, before being released by Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive for a wide dissemination. I also write articles intended for the general public – published in ActuaLitté, a major French-language online magazine on books and culture.
New research project
My plan now is to focus on the sea change brought by digital technology in the lives of professional translators. The internet has fostered a worldwide market for translation services, language localization and translation software, with CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, MT (machine translation) tools and cloud-based online translation platforms.
However the professional translators’ working conditions have become a major issue in recent years, with few people being aware of it in the academic world and in society at large. Translators often work from home – and have become “invisible” in many ways – their names are hardly mentioned anywhere and they seem not to exist any more as persons, not to mention lower fees, precarious employment and the rise of unpaid volunteer translation (including crowd-sourced translation) promoted by major organizations that have the necessary funds to hire many professionals – but no professional translators.
As surprising as it may be in our society, bilingual people need more skills than two languages to become good translators. To be a translator is a profession, with the relevant training and a thorough knowledge of a given discipline. While this was obvious for centuries, this seems less obvious now. After being regarded as scholars alongside authors, professors and researchers for two millennia, many translators, to their dismay, see no mention of their names on press releases and book covers, and sometimes even on the articles and books they spent days, weeks or months to translate.
Are there some solutions to reverse this trend? Our society should acknowledge (again) the translators’ major impact on knowledge, science, literature and culture. My work will be based on many interviews conducted online and on-site.
Benefits of a paid fellowship
I am currently seeking a paid fellowship to run this new research project. A fellowship would have many benefits for me:
* to be part of a group of scholars, writers and translators – either online or on-site;
* to interview them about their work published in other languages;
* to share ideas with them and learn from them;
* to be able to entirely focus on my research project for some time;
* to have more time to disseminate my research project via articles and books – all of them freely available online.
Copyright © 2017 Marie Lebert