Social translation

On my last jog, I listened to a podcast from CBC Radio. In it, Nora Young, host of Spark, interviewed Ethan Zuckerman, who runs Global Voices Online, a community of bloggers working to make blogs from around the world available in various languages. The focus of this interview was on what Zuckerman referred to as “social translation”, or crowdsourced translations. He described how Global Voices Online had been translated into twenty languages by bilingual volunteers who strongly felt that the content of various blogs was so important that it should be available to a wider audience. The podcast is available on this webpage.

I found this interview very insightful, as I’ve grown very interested in crowdsourced translations over the past year. Brian Harris has some very interesting posts with examples of this translation practice: Here’s one about crowdsourcing of Haitian text messages, another about Plurk, a Canadian rival for Twitter, one about crowdsourced translations of The Economist magazine in China (an example that was also mentioned by Zuckerman on the CBC podcast), and a final one describing Traduwiki, a site where large texts are broken up into short segments for anyone to translate. A commenter on Brian’s blog also left a link to Translated By You, a website similar to Traduwiki.

I’ve become so interested in social/collaborative/crowdsourced translation because I think there’s significant potential for academic research in this area. First, because the people translating for these projects are often not professional translators but bilinguals who want to help disseminate content, there’s a good opportunity to see whether peer-reviewed volunteer translations by people with varying translation skills and training are as acceptable as translations produced by trained professionals. Second, because the volunteer aspect of social translation leaves room for analyzing the motivations behind those who participate in the project, and translator motivations are one of my research areas. Some websites have established a non-tangible reward system, where translators are recognized for their work by getting a special mention on their profile page, but other websites offer no rewards, and volunteers are presumably translating the content because they want to make it available. Invariably, the people responsible for these projects are very positive about social translation and enthusiastic about how the phenomenon can help make content available for free. Which leads me to the last aspect of crowdsourcing that could be researched: the attitude of professional translators toward collaborative translation initiatives. Various translation blogs have discussed the issue, including The Masked Translator and Musings from an Overworked Translator. The posts have been particularly critical of for-profit companies relying on crowdsourcing to translate their websites for free, but many are open to the idea of providing volunteer translations to non-for-profit organizations. I’m going to spend some time this summer organizing my thoughts on this issue, and then I’ll start preparing a questionnaire to send out to participants of collaborative translation projects to find out why they wanted to participate. That should give me a good idea of where to go next.

Anyone with links to crowdsourcing translation projects not listed here is welcome to email me or add a comment. I’d love to hear from other researchers working in this area.

3 thoughts on “Social translation

  1. Hi Julie,

    Glad you’re so interested in this topic! I wrote an article for Translation Journal a couple years back on the topic, based on what is happening within Global Voices (now somewhat outdated, but still good as a backgrounder).

    I think this is a really important area for research, and there is a serious shortage of it. Another person I know who’s doing research in this area is Ingrid Fischer, who focuses on China specifically (@yingeli on Twitter). You might want to also follow progress of the translation exchange at GV, described here and in this blog. Besides that there is very little out there as far as I know.

    My particular focus has been on the second theme you mention (“analyzing the motivations behind those who participate in the project”). If you’re interested I can send more details by email.


  2. Thanks for the links, Chris. Your article is really interesting background information, and the Global Voices blog has some great statistics about the people behind crowdsourced translations.

  3. Thanks for the links. Recently, I posted some thoughts about social translators or rather the attitude to social /cloudsourced translation on part of professional LSP (I am a translator for Russian – English – German) on my blog: As of now, it is only in German, with some Engish quotations, but you could test Google Translate just as well. Once again, thanks for your blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *