By Marie Lebert, updated in 2018
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, literature and culture in the global world we live in?
I am a bilingual French-English linguist, librarian and researcher who has lived and worked on five continents — in Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Australia.
I have worked as a linguist and/or librarian 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.
Previous research project
My first research project (2000-16) focused on the hard work of linguists, librarians and other professionals to make the web truly multilingual. It was conducted with the help of 100 participants worldwide. I interviewed many colleagues in Europe, America, Africa and Asia, both online and on-site. Some of them were interviewed several times.
Linguists, librarians, programmers, teachers, professors, researchers and others helped to promote their own language and culture, or other languages and cultures, while often using English as a “lingua franca”. In a short time, they created plurilingual websites, language-related resources, reference dictionaries, multilingual encyclopedias, and translation software.
This research project 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, etc.) for any electronic device.
The interviews, articles and ebooks were published online by NEF (Net of French Studies), University of Toronto, Canada, before being released by Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive under an international Creative Commons license for a wider dissemination.
New research project
My research now focuses on the lives of professional translators — past and present –, including the sea change brought by digital technology in the global world we live in. 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.
The translators’ working conditions have also 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”, with precarious employment, lower fees 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 given discipline. Translators are a key part of scholarship, alongside authors, scholars and researchers. While this was obvious for centuries, this seems less obvious now. After being regarded as scholars alongside authors and researchers during two millennia, many translators, to their dismay, see no mention of their names on press releases and on web pages introducing their work, and sometimes even on the articles and books they spent days, weeks or months to translate.
Like in former times, 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. I do hope that it will instigate a social change for the better — meaning a better perception and recognition of the translators’ hard work in past and present times.
Copyright © 2017-18 Marie Lebert