The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020 - 33

GEEKSPEAK

BY JOST ZETZSCHE

Our Extremely Diverse (Translation) World

I

've known Kirti Vashee for many
years, and you also likely know him
from his eMpTy Pages blog,1 where
he writes about the translation world,
especially machine translation (MT),
and generously gives space to other
experts to publish their views. His
interest in MT is not a coincidence as
he has worked for a number of MT
providers, including the statistical MT
pioneers Language Weaver and Asia
Online (today: Omniscien) and, lately,
SDL. Therefore, I was really surprised to
hear Kirti say the following a few weeks
ago during a panel he chaired on MT as
part of the MultiLingual Summer Series:
" We in the technology space make the
mistake to see 'human translators' as a
monolithic group. They are not-they
have widely varying abilities. " 2
As in virtually any discussion on
MT, that panel also discussed how
MT will impact translators. Very often
we hear a similar refrain from MT
experts regarding this: " Translators are
important and will continue to play a
crucial role as post-editors of machine
translation. " But what Kirti said was
clearly different. And then, almost as
a continuation of that comment, he
wrote a blog post entitled " The Premium
Translation Market: Hiding In Plain
Sight, " where he thoughtfully explores
the " premium market " versus the " bulk
market " and " value-added market "
and ponders the continuum that exists
between them.3 I encourage you to read
his post if you haven't already. As one
might expect, it caused quite a social
media stir. Since I was on vacation when
it first posted, I read it after my return
and have been thinking a lot about it.
There are some minor things that Kirti
says (or where he quotes others) that I
don't agree with-mostly concerning a
too-strict definition of what a " premium
translator " can or cannot do. But I
really like other concepts, especially the

The translation world is much
more varied than you or I or
really anyone knows.
continuum of the market, meaning that
there are many variations between the
polar ends of bulk and premium, and it
might often be impossible to
actually classify any given activity
within that continuum.
As I thought some more about it,
however, and tried to place myself
and my work as a translator into the
linearity of that continuum model,
I realized that this paradigm doesn't
necessarily work. Here's what I think.
The translation world is much more
varied than you or I or really anyone
knows (and Kirti gives some really great
illustrations of that). This also means
that there is not necessarily a linear
continuum. Instead, it's sort of threedimensional. (I imagine there's a term
for such a concept, but I'm not familiar
with it.)

One of the reasons for this third
dimension is the role of expertise
in things other than " just " various
levels of subject matter expertise
and a comprehensive understanding
of the industry in which you work.
For example, this dimension might
include skills in data management and
the technical savvy to use that wellmanaged data for a given client.
Consider my favorite client, for
example. Due to this client's workflow,
translation work is charged by the
word, which is often not the most ideal
scenario. I charge about twice the rate
quoted in Kirti's post for the " valueadded market " (I've been the go-to
German translator for this particular
end-client for more than 15 years),
but in reality I'm typically able to bill
a multiple of that. Why? Because my
translation memory management is
better than my client's. (And my client
is completely aware of this and has no
issue with it.)
I know this is not a one-off case.
With any client for whom I've worked
for more than a year or two, the quality
of my translation memory and the
termbase I've maintained for that client
and the ones that are provided by the
client should be identical. But they
always start to diverge, with mine being
much more valuable and complete
and-increasingly-profitable. I'm
certain that any experienced translator
in a similar situation will be able to
verify that.
Now, according to the guidelines that
Kirti's post suggests, I don't work for
the " premium market. " For instance, I
don't meet with C-level executives of my
client, I don't do this particular client/
subject matter full time, and-probably
most importantly-the kinds of
materials I translate are not really those
that, according to Kirti's post, fall under
the rubric of " premium " materials. But

This column has two goals: to inform the community about technological advances and encourage the use and appreciation of technology among translation professionals.

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American Translators Association

33


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The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020

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The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020 - Contents
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The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020 - Cover4
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