A better life for professional translators [research project]

LogoMarieBy Marie Lebert, version of 7 June 2016.

Are there some solutions to improve the precarious life led by many professional translators? This research project is part of a series on translation and translators.


* Short biography
* Previous research project
* New research project
* Benefits of a paid fellowship


Short biography

I am a bilingual French-English linguist and researcher 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, Spain) and the Sorbonne (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, France), and in the past for the International Labour Organization (ILO, Geneva, Switzerland) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, Paris, France).

Since I was granted a doctorate of linguistics (digital media) from the Sorbonne 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 internet truly multilingual. This research project was conducted with the help of 100 participants worldwide. The corresponding publications (interviews, articles, books) were published online by NEF (Net of French Studies), University of Toronto, Canada, 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 translators – past and present – including the sea change brought by digital technology in professional translators’ working conditions, that have become a major issue in recent years. Translators are a key part of scholarship, alongside authors, academics and researchers. While this was obvious for centuries, this is less obvious now. Translators have become “invisible”, 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 – meaning a better perception and recognition of the translators’ hard work in past and present times.

Previous research project

As a linguist myself, I first focused on the hard work of linguists and other professionals to make the internet truly multilingual, while interviewing many colleagues in Europe, America, Africa and Asia – both online and on-site.

This self-funded research project – conducted from 2000 to 2016 – was one of the first ones (a) to be freely available on the internet (as a series of interviews, articles and books); (b) to be available in three languages (English, French, Spanish); and (c) to be available in various digital formats (html, pdf, epub, kindle, daisy, etc.) for any electronic device.

The final publication was “Books and articles across borders and languages (1990-2015)” – released in April 2016 in three editions (French, English, Spanish). Each edition focuses on the corresponding language community. As explained in the overview of the English edition, the internet 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 other languages and cultures, while often using English as a ‘lingua franca’. These people were linguists, librarians, programmers, teachers, researchers, marketing consultants, etc. In a short time, they made the web truly multilingual, with plurilingual websites, language-related resources, reference dictionaries, multilingual encyclopedias, online publications in several languages, and translation software.

As an advocate of open access to research, all my articles and books are freely available online under an international Creative Commons license. They were first published by NEF (Net of French Studies), University of Toronto, Canada, 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, the main French-language online magazine on books and culture.

New research project

As a translator myself (as well as an editor and researcher), I would now like to focus on translators in past and present times. The main trend of present times is 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 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 they have become “invisible” in many ways. Their names are hardly mentioned anywhere. They seem not to exist any more as persons, not to mention lower fees, precarious employment, 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, 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, academics and researchers during 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. As for my previous research project, this new project would be based on many interviews conducted worldwide – both 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 – both online and 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 – and be a full-time researcher, a dream I have had for a long time.

Copyright © 2016 Marie Lebert

Written by marielebert

2017/03/03 at 00:40

Posted in Uncategorized