A better life for professional translators [research project]


By Marie Lebert, version of 9 March 2019.

Are there some solutions to improve the professional translators’ working conditions? Are there some solutions for our society to acknowledge the translators’ major impact on knowledge, science, education, business and culture? While the key role played by translators in society was obvious for centuries, it seems less obvious in our global world. We use translated work (books, articles, news, movies, videos, websites, social media, mobile apps, games, etc.) all the time, but translators are often underpaid, and their names are often forgotten on their work.

* 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 (translator, editor, proofreader) for international organizations for more than twenty years, lately for International Correspondents in Education, and in the past for the International Labour Organization (ILO).

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, librarians and others to make the web truly multilingual. This project was conducted with the help of 100 participants worldwide. I also interviewed them on the development of ebooks, digital publishing and digital libraries for another related project.

After the invention of the web in 1990, internet users who didn’t have English as a mother tongue reached 5 percent in summer 1994, 20 percent in summer 1998, 50 percent in summer 2000, and 75 percent in summer 2015. The internet saw the rise of ‘linguistic democracy’. Linguists, librarians and others 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 made the web truly multilingual, with plurilingual digital libraries and bookstores, plurilingual online newspapers and magazines, plurilingual websites, language-related online resources, multilingual online dictionaries and encyclopedias, digital publications in several languages, 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, epub, pdf, 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, before being published as ebooks in three languages, first in Project Gutenberg and then in the Community Texts of the Internet Archive under a Creative Commons license.

New research project

My research now focuses on professional translators — past and present. My main research interest is the sea change brought by digital technology in the translators’ lives, with its good and bad sides.

The internet has fostered a worldwide market for translation services offered by language service providers (LSP) that act as an intermediary between clients and freelance translators. Many translators work with CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools on cloud-based online translation platforms.

The translators’ working conditions have also become a major issue, with few people being aware of it in society at large. Most translators now work remotely 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 requires a thorough knowledge of the subject matter.

After being regarded as scholars alongside writers, academics and scientists 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.

As in former times, our society should acknowledge again the translators’ major impact on society, knowledge, science, education, business and culture.

Many translators believe in translation as a labor of love and a bridge between two cultures. They want to be considered as skilled professionals and even as artists, not only for their precarious life, but also for the craft, dedication and passion they put into their work. Some of them go as far as risking their lives in conflict zones and other high-risk settings.

This new research project would be based on many interviews conducted worldwide. 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. My first project (2000-16) was self-funded, which was very hard at times. For this new project, I would like 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