Remembering Joan Pinkham

I was very saddened earlier this week when I learned that Joan Pinkham, who translated Pierre Vallières’ autobiographical essay, Nègres blancs d’Amérique, into English, and whom I had interviewed in 2008 during my doctoral work, died a few months ago, at the age of 83. Although I never had the opportunity to meet Joan in person, we continued to correspond via email in the years after the interview, and I enjoyed her thoughtful and kind messages. During our interview, she reflected on her career, first as as a bilingual secretary at the United Nations from the early 1950s until 1961, and then as a French to English translator. Initially she translated magazine articles for the independent socialist magazine Monthly Review, but in later years she translated a number of non-fiction books such as Henri Troyat’s works on Catherine the Great, Alexander of Russia, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. Given my interest in translated works related to Quebec nationalism and the sovereignty referendums, our interview focused mainly her translation of Nègres blancs d’Amérique, which was first published in 1971 in the US by Monthly Review Press and then republished in Canada that same year by McClelland & Stewart.

As a tribute to her, I thought I would reprint an excerpt from our interview correspondence. In 2011, she granted me permission to post the full interview online as part of a collection I’m putting together that includes interviews with political translators and other archived material. The collection isn’t quite ready to be shared with the public, so I won’t post a link to it here, but when the rest of the interviews have been transcribed, approved, and posted, I will write a blog post about them.

The following excerpt is from our early correspondence, in which Joan discusses her background, her career and her motivations for translating:

[…]
Since you ask, I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., because my father was a government official. My mother (Anne Terry White) was a prolific and acclaimed writer of non-fiction books for children. She taught her daughters the love of literature and a curiosity about words, and throughout their childhood she provided them with the constant and fascinating sound of an Underwood standard typewriter.

As you will see from the résumé, I studied French in college and graduate school (including in Paris) and had the good fortune to improve my knowledge of the language during ten years as a bilingual secretary at United Nations, where I worked for and with French staff members.

As a translator, I am basically self-taught. At the time I was in school, there were no official academic programmes in translation in the U.S. (or none that I was aware of). Courses at the British Institute in Paris and at Middlebury College in Vermont — they were called “Stylistics” – were invaluable but insufficient for my purposes. So I studied on my own, reading such books as I could find, preparing translations of Maupassant and comparing mine to the many different printed versions, learning much from the bilingual documents that constantly came across my desk at UN.

3. My career
In the course of my ten years at United Nations I did quite a bit of informal translation from F to E but soon gave up my ambition of becoming an official translator. I don’t know whether my French would have been good enough for the job, but proficiency in a third language was required, and it would have taken too much time and effort to bring my feeble Spanish to the required level. (It turned out that I had an increasingly responsible and interesting job as a bilingual secretary with WHO, and I never regretted having abandoned the other possibility.)

It was only after I left United Nations and began raising children that I started translating for publication. That was owing solely to a stroke of good luck: I was friends with the founding editors of the independent socialist magazine Monthly Review (Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy), and it was they who asked me if I could translate an article for them. I did, they loved my work, and that led to other articles and to my first three books: the Nizan, White Niggers, and the Césaire, all published by MR Press.

These assignments all came to me unsolicited, but when MR had nothing more for me to do, I had to hustle jobs. Making the rounds of the New York publishing houses, I eventually got contracts for the next couple of books (Goldman, Israël) and then for Troyat’s Catherine the Great. Dutton liked my work, as did Troyat, so I went on to do everything else of his that Dutton took on.

Then, as you will see from the résumé, nothing. To the extent that I had a career and my name was known to a number of editors in New York, that career and those connections were interrupted by my eight years in China (whither I first went in 1979 because my husband had been invited there to teach journalism). I’ve done other things since our final return from China in 1994, but they haven’t included the daunting task — résumés, letters, cold calls to editors, job-hunting safaris — of trying to re-establish a career as a translator.

4. My choice of projects
I never chose my projects, except in the sense that I could have rejected them when offered. I was hungry for work and would have accepted anything that I didn’t think was actually pernicious. (I seem to remember that I did that once, with Viking, but perhaps I was not dealing with a firm offer.) Fortunately, I had total confidence in the MR editors and was proud and happy to undertake the jobs they proposed. I felt that this work constituted my small contribution to the propagation of ideas that I believed in. . . my justification for being, as Sartre says somewhere in the introduction to Nizan. I felt an affinity for Pierre Goldman, and was more than pleased to do Dr. Lucien Israël’s fine book on cancer. As for the Troyat books, although they were not political, I thought they were good and marvelously well written. They were a pleasure to work on.

Fiction would have been harder than non-fiction, but I would have cheerfully attempted it if any had been proposed.

5. Typical aspects of my career
You didn’t specifically ask about this, but your questions suggest that you may be interested in the following more general comments about the profession.

Unless circumstances have changed for the better in the past twenty years since I was active in the field — and I believe they have changed for the worse — literary translation is not a “career” in the United States. Technical translation, for staff members of international organizations and for inkstained wretches hired and exploited by commercial agencies, has always been a career. There may also be professional literary translators in the U.S. who make a living as such, but I have never met one (e.g. at a conference), or even read about one.

The distinguished translators who introduce the new works from Latin America or Europe, and whose names guarantee reviews, all seem to be academics, writers, lecturers in their own right. Presumably, they have separate sources of income. And no doubt the most celebrated ones command a part interest in the books they translate.

In this regard, my own experience is probably typical. That is, my work was subsidized by another source of income — not mine, as it happens, but my husband’s (he was a university faculty member). Even in the years when I was working full time, the income I earned was dérisoire in terms of the hours of skilled labor required to secure it, and I could not have supported myself in that way. Possibly in Canada, which is an officially bilingual country, the conditions of employment for translators are better.

Once, when I was doing the Troyat books for Dutton, I complained to my editor there about my rate of pay (a flat fee at the time; later I insisted on royalties). I was told that a certain literary agent, who was then the “gatekeeper” of foreign works brought into this country, negotiated the contracts with the French publishers even before the rights were sold to an American house, and that it was to him that I must apply if I objected to the terms. I made bold to write to this agent. Making the case that the work of the translator was fundamental to the success of the imported work, I asked if it was not reasonable for him or her to expect a greater share of the benefits. The Great Man’s assistant replied that the translator’s case did not merit special consideration: after all, the jacket designer likewise thought he deserved a larger share.

That experience was consistent with what I had found to be the general level of respect accorded a translator. At the time — the situation may have somewhat improved by now– most reviews of translated books never mentioned the work of the translator, for good or ill. Often, indeed, one would never have known that the book had been originally written in another language.

Nor is the translator necessarily respected by the publisher. In dealing with one of the biggest houses, I repeatedly had to wait months for replies to correspondence and even came to the point of considering legal action before I was paid what was owed me for completed work.

6. Why I translate
Despite these grievances, I have continued to translate so long as I could get jobs. Because I love the work. Because I believe in my authors. Because once every few years a reviewer or an editor praises my work. Because some of my authors –Amin, Vallières, Goldman, Israël, Troyat — kindly answer my queries, thank me for my collaboration, and tell me that they prize what I have done for them.

For example, I was touched and honored by the note that Pierre Vallières, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at last in Quebec in the summer of 1971, inscribed on the flyleaf of my copy of the English book:

A Joan Pinkham, pour son travail extraordinaire et sa profonde amitié, je dis ma plus sincère estime, ma grande admiration et mon amitié indéfectible. Vive le Québec libre! Vive la révolution mondiale! Nous vaincrons! Pierre Vallières 29-7-71.

Highlights from the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference

As anyone who browses through enough of this blog will likely discover, my research interests are rather varied. I love technology, and I’ve presented and published papers and posts on crowdsourcing, website translation, and translator blogs. I spend a lot of time teaching, so I often post blog entries about my experiences in the classroom. But I also love history and politics–so much so, in fact that my doctoral thesis focused on the English and French translations of non-fiction texts related to Quebec nationalism, independence movements and the sovereignty referendums. So this month I’m attending two very different conferences held two weeks–and two continents– apart: the Translation in Contexts of Official Multilingualism conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, and the 12th Portsmouth conference “Those who can, teach”, in the UK. I’ve just returned from the Moncton conference, and I’ll be flying to the UK later this week.

Writing more than just a brief overview of the two conferences is beyond the scope of a short blog post (which is unfortunately all I have time to write), so I’ll share a few thoughts from the Moncton conference right now, and a few comments about Portsmouth later this month.

Some of the presentations I found particularly interesting were Chantal Gagnon‘s presentation on Liberal, Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois translation policies around the time of the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum, Kyle Conway‘s research on (non)translation policies at Radio-Canada and the CBC, and Mathieu Leblanc‘s talk about translation in a Moncton public-service agency.

Gagnon’s comparison of speeches made by the Bloc Québécois, Parti Québécois and Liberal leaders during and after the 1995 sovereignty referendum really underscored, to me at least, the advantages of having an official translation policy: while the Liberal Party was able to target voters differently by adapting the French and English versions of speeches to the two audiences, the speeches made by politicians from the Quebec parties (Bloc and PQ) were translated in newspapers by journalists. Thus, only partial translations of the speeches were available, and these translations often contained minor shifts in meaning and omissions of politeness markers that the Quebec politicians may have wanted to retain. Not providing an official English translation meant the two Quebec parties weren’t able to control the message English-speaking Canadians (and English speakers outside the country) were receiving.

Conway, by examining statements made by policymakers and executives in the 1960s and 1990s, explored the question of translated news at the CBC and Radio-Canada. His presentation compared the current style of presenting news to Canadians, namely having two separate, but parallel, national news services to report on events and interview Canadian figures, and an alternative model periodically recommended by policymakers who wanted to see more bilingual or translated news. For instance, a politician’s might be broadcast in French across the country, but subtitles would be added to broadcasts appearing on English networks. Conway explored why this alternative model has not been successful in Canada, raising questions along the way about how French- and English-speaking Canadians understand one another.

The interviews Leblanc conducted in a Moncton-based federal department gave him some insight into the attitudes of bilingual public servants toward translation. The vast majority of the documents in the department were produced in English and then translated into French, even when the writer’s mother tongue was French. What I found fascinating was that many of the public servants Leblanc interviewed didn’t view translation negatively (as it often is in cases like this where the target language is the language into which texts are usually translated rather than the language from which translation generally take place). Instead, the French translations were viewed as a model to be followed. Some of the interviewees commented, for instance, that they wished they could write in French as well as the translators. Often, these interviewees didn’t write in French because they didn’t feel confident enough in their mother tongue, but the fact that the bilingual public servants also worked with unilingual anglophones also played a role: French speakers wanted to ensure their drafts could be read by everybody in the department before the document was finalized (and translated).

Moncton isn’t the only place where non-native English speakers are producing texts in English and having these texts translated into their mother tongues (and other languages). During the panel discussions and plenary talks with representatives from organizations like Canada’s Translation Bureau, the European Commission and Amnesty International, one point that came up several times was that language professionals are less frequently translating official documents into English and are instead revising English documents produced by non-native speakers and then sending these documents on for translation into other languages. Partly because non-native speakers are writing in English and their texts are being revised rather than translated into English, public-sector English translation work seems to be on the decline. This is a trend I’ll have to mention to my students, as editing (rather than translating) may be the kind of work they’ll have to look for post-graduation, given the current economy.

All in all, this was a very interesting conference, and it’s given me some new points to consider as a revise my doctoral dissertation into a book. I’ll start posting more on political and historical translations as I focus more attention on my book in the new year.

Early translator-activists

I’ve been working on the next Reacting to the Past game that I’m going to incorporate into my Theory of Translation course this fall (for more details, see this post from June or this one from July). Unlike the last game, which was set in contemporary Canada, this one takes place in 16th-century England, when William Tyndale translated the New Testament from Greek into English, in spite of the 1408 Constitutions of Oxford prohibiting Bible translations without approval from the Church.

Initially, I wondered whether Tyndale (or his contemporary, Martin Luther) would be a good choice for a Reacting to the Past game intended to be played in a general theory of translation course rather than a history of translation seminar. I wondered whether the game would be set too far in the past to allow us to examine contemporary translation studies issues; after all, Introducing Translation Studies, which we’ll be using as the coursebook, has only one chapter devoted to pre-twentieth-century translation theory. We’ll be looking at that chapter in the first week of classes, but the Tyndale game will run for about four weeks. Would students find the game too far removed from the content of the rest of the coursebook? How would I be able to draw links between the game and the material from the other chapters of Introducing Translation Studies?

But then, as I read more about Tyndale and the context in which he was translating, I realized we could drawn many parallels between him and contemporary translators. For instance, we’ll be able to compare Tyndale’s activities and very recent studies of activist translators or translators who support a social cause when translating. Just consider Tyndale’s comments in “A Pathway into the Holy Scripture”, which he published around 1530 to explain the meaning of words like gospel, Old Testament, Christ and faith:

I marvel greatly, dearly beloved in Christ, that any man would ever contend or speak against having the scripture available in every language, for every man. For I would have thought no one so blind as to ask why light should be shown to those who walk in darkness—darkness where they cannot but stumble, and where to stumble is the danger of eternal condemnation. Nor would I have thought any man would be so malicious that he would begrudge another so necessary a thing, or so mad as to assert that good is the natural cause of evil, and that darkness proceeds out of light, and that lying is grounded in truth and verity. I would think he would assert the very contrary: that light destroys darkness and truth reproves all manner of lying.

Or what about this passage from Tyndale’s prologue to the Five Books of Moses, called Genesis, also printed in 1530:

For they which in times past were wont to look on no more Scripture than they found in their Duns, or such like devilish doctrine, have yet now so narrowly looked on my Translation, that there is not so much as one i therein, if it lack a tittle over his head, but they have noted it, and number it unto the ignorant people for an heresy. Finally, in this they all be agreed,–to drive you from the knowledge of the Scripture, and that ye shall not have the text thereof in the mother tongue; and to keep the world still in darkness, to the intent they might sit in the consciences of the people, through vain superstition and false doctrine; […] For as long as they may keep [the Scripture] down, they will so darken the right way with the mist of their sophistry […]

In Tyndale’s texts, we see many of the same arguments that volunteer, cause-driven translation groups make today. Tyndale criticizes the Church for “trying to keep the world in darkness” and he recognizes that having access to the Bible in their mother tongue would allow his contemporaries to move beyond ignorance, to read and understand the Bible for themselves, without the Church acting as an intermediary. More recent activist and volunteer translator groups often argue that information is a powerful tool and that translators can help disseminate knowledge by making this information available in other languages. Translators Without Borders, for instance, states that:

Knowledge is power.
It saves lives, lifts people out of poverty, ensures better health and nutrition, creates and maintains economies.

Access to information is critical.
Language barriers cost lives.
[…]
Through the sophisticated Translators without Borders platform, important aid groups easily connect directly with professional translators, breaking down the barriers of language and building up the transfer of information to those who need it, one brick at a time.

Likewise, Babels, the network of volunteer translators and interpreters who help facilitate “interlinguistic and intercultural communication” at the World Social Forums describes itself in the following way:

Babels is made up of activists of all tendencies and backgrounds, united in the task of transforming and opening up the Social Forums. We work to give voice to peoples of different languages and cultures. We fight for the right of all, including those who don’t speak a colonial language, to contribute to the common work. We try to allow everyone to express themselves in the language of their choice. By increasing the diversity of contributions to the debate, we transform its outcome.

Like Tyndale, these groups believe access to information in one’s own language is important and something worth fighting for. Of course, the stakes for Tyndale were much higher: death was the penalty imposed on unrepentant heretics who translated or read the bible in English in the 1520s and 30s, causing Tyndale to work in self-imposed exile and in fear of the Church’s informants. Groups like Translators without Borders and Babels are able to operate much more openly today. Nonetheless, the similarities in the discourses of Reformation-era bible translators like Tyndale and contemporary activist groups like Translators without Borders are striking, and certainly support the arguments made by Chesterman (1995, 2000), Neubert (2000) and others that translation history needs to be integrated into translation courses if students are to fully understand the profession and their role within it. In the instructor guidelines for the Tyndale game, I will be sure to include some comments about how the game can be related to issues addressed in various chapters of Introducing Translation Studies (e.g. censorship, power), in case other instructors would like to integrate the game into their courses and need some guidance as to how a game set so far in the past is relevant to contemporary translation studies issues.

References:
Chesterman, Andrew. (2000). Teaching Strategies for Emancipatory Translation. In Christina Schaffner & Beverly Adab, eds. Developing Translation Competence. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 77-90.

Chesterman, Andrew. (1995). Teaching Translation Theory: The Significance of Memes. In Cay Dollerup & Vibeke Appel, eds. Teaching Translation and Interpreting 3. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 63-71.

Neubert, Albrecht. (2000). Competence in Language, in Languages and in Translation. In Christina Schaffner & Beverly Adab, eds. Developing Translation Competence. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 3-18.

Introducing Translation Studies, 3rd edition

A few weeks ago, Routledge sent me a copy of the latest edition of Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies, which I’ll be using in the fall with my undergraduate theory of translation course (in combination with the Reacting to the Past method I’ve already discussed here). We’ll be publishing a review of the book in the March 2013 issue of The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, but in the meantime, I thought I’d write a short review of my own here.

So what has changed since the last version of the book, which was published four years ago? Visually, this third edition, released in February 2012, is quite appealing: it uses both blue and black text throughout, which makes navigating through the chapters much easier. It’s also been expanded: the 2008 edition, which was also smaller in size, was 236 pages, while this one is 366. Although a new chapter, which discusses how to apply theory to translation commentaries and research projects, accounts for most of the extra pages, the other chapters generally contain new material as well.

As with the 2nd edition, a companion website has been prepared to accompany the book. There, students will find material to accompany every chapter–typically an introductory video, a series of multiple-choice questions, recommendations for further reading and suggestions for related research projects. While the book itself includes some of these same features (reading list and research project topics), the online material is different enough that students will find a visit to the website helpful. For instructors, the companion website offers free access to journal articles related to each chapter (annotated by Jeremy Munday), along with PowerPoint presentations that cover the main points of every chapter. I’m torn, though, as to whether these PowerPoints are an advantage or disadvantage: on the one hand, new instructors will likely find the files helpful; the slides can be customized, and the fact that the main points are already summarized in the presentations will help save some preparation time. On the other hand, a PowerPoint lecture is, at least in my view, a fairly boring way to present the material, and, as others have argued (e.g. Bligh 1998), lecturing alone is not an effective way to help students learn. For this reason, I would have liked to have seen Munday suggest different ways of integrating the content of his book into a translation theory class. For instance, the website could have offered activities related to each chapter’s content, additional case studies that could be analyzed together in class, or even recommendations for integrating various technologies (e.g. Twitter, blogs, wikis) into the classroom to help students reflect on and apply the material in the book. (For those who are interested, The Chronicle has published a number of articles discussing how professors have integrated these kinds of technologies into their classes, which could provide some inspiration for translation studies professors. Here’s one describing a professor’s experience allowing students to ask questions in class via Twitter, another offering advice on teaching with Twitter, and one more discussing how to integrate blogs into the classroom).

Companion website aside, this new edition of Introducing Translation Studies definitely has more to offer than the 2008 volume. In the new media chapter, for instance, Munday has been able to briefly address topics like crowdsourcing, fan-subbing and activist translation, three subjects that are increasingly popular of late, judging by the number of books and journals that have recently focused on these issues (e.g. the upcoming issue of The Translator focusing on non-professional translation, the 2011 issue of Linguistica Antverpiensia on community translation, or the 2010 book Translation/Interpreting and Social Activism). Students interested in cognitive approaches to translation will likely appreciate the new addition to Chapter 4, which discusses some of the ways of conducting observational research. While I would have liked to see additional case studies related to some of this new material (either in the book or on the companion website), the updated reading lists and discussion of new trends in translation studies make switching to the third edition worthwhile.


References
Bligh, Donald. (1998). What’s the Use of Lectures? Exeter: Intellect.

Highlights from Congress 2012 (Part 2)

The theme for this year’s CATS conference was “Translation, Texts, Media”, which led to an interesting and very diverse program covering topics ranging from dubbing, subtitling, audio description and oral translation to collaborative/crowdsourced translation, digital poetry, and pseudotranslation.

Unfortunately, I had to leave earlier the conference than I’d intended, so I missed some presentations I wanted to hear. Nonetheless, I did enjoy several presentations, three of which I thought I’d briefly discuss here.

The first was University of Ottawa professor Elizabeth Marshman’s presentation on LinguisTech, a website filled with technology-related resources such as tutorials for translation tools (corpora, term extractors, text aligners, search engines, word processors, etc.), blogs, discussion forums, and grammar, translation and style tips. I’ve heard Elizabeth speak before about the tutorials, as she helped develop them for University of Ottawa students. The resources are now available to the general public, and they’re definitely something undergraduate translation students should make use of. Professors will likely find the resources helpful too, as they can pass out the tutorials in class without having to spend time preparing the materials themselves.

Another very interesting presentation was by Philippe Caignon, from Concordia. As a follow-up to his earlier talk on integrating blogs into the classroom (which I discussed in this 2010 post), Philippe spoke about integrating wikis into his terminology course. As he argued, wikis are often used by companies like Hydro-Québec for terminology management, so incorporating wikis into the classroom helps expose students to a technology they might need to use in the workplace. Some of the advantages to wikis are similar to those I’ve discussed already when I’ve blogged about integrating Google Docs into the classroom: students can collaborate with one another and easily revise one another’s work. One advantage to the wiki platforms Philippe was using (TermWiki and PmWiki) is that he was able to receive alerts whenever a student modified a term entry. This meant he didn’t have to scroll through the revision history to track student contributions (something that is still a fairly time-consuming activity in Google Docs). For professors who aren’t teaching terminology courses but who would like to integrate wikis into their courses, Philippe mentioned wikispaces as a free, customizable platform. Definitely worth checking out!

Finally, I really enjoyed listening to Université de Moncton’s Mathieu Leblanc speak about his ethnographic study of translator attitudes toward translation memory systems. His work, though still in an introductory phase, is really crucial to shedding more light on the workplace practices of professional translators and how these practices have changed over time. Mathieu conducted interviews with salaried translators and on-site field observations at three Atlantic-Canada translation companies. In his presentation, he discussed some of the respondents’ views about segmentation in translation memories, as well as their perceptions of how their translation habits have been affected by the software. Since Mathieu had only begun to analyze the vast amount of data he collected, I’m looking forward to his future publications on the topic, as this is an area with important implications for translator training and workplace practices. It even contributes to creating a history of contemporary workplace practices, which would be invaluable for future Translation Studies researchers.

All in all, the conference was a great experience this year. I’m looking forward to next year’s conference in Victoria, B.C., on science in translation. I’m hoping to have time to return to Wikipedia’s translators, and study how scientific articles have been translated and revised within the encyclopedia, given that my 2011 survey indicated many English Wikipedia translators have no formal training in translation.

Highlights from Congress 2012 (Part 1)

I’ve just returned from the 2012 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which I attended mainly for the 25th annual CATS conference. This year, Congress was held at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Now that I’m back, I thought I’d write two short posts about some of the presentations I enjoyed. This post will focus on a session I attended outside CATS, and the next will focus on three presentations I found particularly interesting during the CATS conference.

To follow up on my earlier post about role-playing in the classroom, I was particularly happy to have been able to get to Waterloo a day early so I could attend the Reacting to the Past session offered by University of Alberta law professors James Muir and Peter Carver as part of the Canadian History Association’s annual meeting. The session was designed to recreate (to a certain extent) the Quebec Conference of 1864, and participants were assigned roles from one of the delegations at the conference (Tories, bleus, Reformers, Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers, etc.). Something I really appreciated about the session–apart from being able to see a Reacting to the Past game actually being played–was the fact that Muir and Carver provided participants and observers with detailed documentation that outlined the rules and goals of the game, the objectives of each group, the points and voting mechanisms, and the grading system. I also had a helpful chat with James Muir after the session to ask some questions about game play mechanics, such as how much class time should be spent on a game (he recommended between 1.5 and 2 hours per session) and how instructors could assess a student’s participation (he recommended, for instance, marking students on their engagement with the game, their attempt to understand their character, their attempt to consult texts other than assigned readings, and their effort to respect the pedagogical purpose of the game by playing fairly rather than trying to gain points without caring about the content of the proposals they submit). On a less positive note, however, the documentation they provided really opened my eyes to the amount of preparation involved in creating a game: The document students receive is nearly 20 single-spaced pages long, and any game that follows a similar format will require nearly as much detail before it can be integrated into a classroom.

Nonetheless, based on this session, and the documentation Muir and Carver helpfully provided, I’ve been working a game for my undergraduate Theory of Translation course this September. It will be based on the development of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian standard for Translation Services and will allow us to consider questions like what qualifications professional translators should have and what effects standards have on the language industry and its clients. It will also allow students to apply theoretical approaches like skopos, and discourse or register analysis when they make their arguments.

I’ve also realized that a game like the one demonstrated at Congress takes about 4-6 hours to play, spread out in 1.5-2 hour sessions spanning about 4 weeks. That means I’d need to create 1 or 2 other games if I want to focus the entire 13-week Theory of Translation course on learning through role-playing. The other two scenarios I’ve been mulling over are one of the early controversies over biblical translation (e.g. Luther) to help students debate the source- vs. target-oriented approaches to translation and consider the various effects translation can have in a society, and the the controversy over a Galician translator’s “sexist” translation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I mentioned in my last post on this topic. This particular controversy would allow the class to explore not just feminist approaches to translation, but also ethical, cultural and linguistic issues.

My main idea behind having three different games is to ensure that each one focuses on themes from specific chapters of Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies, allowing us to apply the concepts discussed in the books via the game that unfolds over the course of 2-4 weeks. I’ll lecture for 1-1.5 hours, and then we’ll play the game for the remaining 1.5-2 hours. I think this will be a good way to apply translation theories and to help students develop their argumentation skills. I’ll write a follow-up post in April, once I’ve had a chance to use the games in the classroom and see what the students thought.

Wikipedia survey IV (Motivations)

While I’ve still got the survey open in my browser, I thought I’d finish writing about the results. This last post will look at the motivations the 76 respondents gave for translating, editing or otherwise participating in a crowdsourced translation initiative. (I should point out that although the question asked about the “last crowdsourced translation initiative in which [respondents] participated”, 63 of the 76 respondents (83%) indicated that Wikipedia was the last initiative in which they had participated, so their motivations are mainly for Wikipedia, with a few for Pirate Parties International, nozebe.com, open-source software, iFixit, Forvo, and Facebook)

The survey asked two questions about motivations. Respondents were first asked to select up to four motivations for participating.[*] They were then given the same list and asked to choose just one motivation. In both cases, they were offered motivations that can be described as either intrinsic (done not for a reward but rather for enjoyment or due to a sense of obligation to the community) or extrinsic (done for a direct or indirect reward). They were also allowed to select “Other” and add their own motivations to the list, as 11 respondents chose to do.

When I looked at the results, it became clear that most respondents had various reasons for participating: only 4 people choose one motivation when they were allowed to list multiple reasons (and one person skipped this question). All four wanted to make information available to others. Here’s a chart that shows which motivations were most commonly cited. (Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size image):
wikipedia translators-4 motivations

As the chart shows, intrinsic motivations (making information available to others, finding intellectual stimulation in the project, and supporting the organization that launched the initiative) were the motivations most often chosen by respondents. However, a significant number also had extrinsic reasons for participating: they wanted to gain more experience translating or practice their language skills. In the article I wrote about this survey, I broke these motivations down by type of respondent (those who had worked as professional translators vs. those who had not), so I won’t go into details here, except to say that there are some differences between the two groups.

Respondents who chose “Other” described various motivations: one was bored at work, one wanted “to be part of this network movement”, one wanted to improve his students’ translation skills by having them translate for Wikipedia, two thought it was fun, one wanted to quote a Wikipedia article in an academic work but needed the information to be in English, and three noted that they wanted to help or gain recognition within the Wikipedia community. Some more detailed motivations (often with a political/social emphasis) were also cited, either with this question, or in the final comments section:

I am not a developer of software, but I am using it for free. To translate and localise the software for developers is a way to say thank you – Only translated software has a chance to spread and prosper – I get to know new features and/or new software as soon as it is available

As a former university teacher I believe that fighting ignorance is an important way of making world a better place. Translating local knowledge into trans-national English is my personal gift for the humanity 🙂

I’m not sure how you found me because I’m pretty sure I only translated one Wikipedia page… I did it mainly because the subject of the article is almost unknown in the Jewish world, and I wanted more people to know about her and one of the few ways in which I can help make her story more widely known is by translating it into French. That being said I think I’ll try to do more!

The main reason I became involved in crowdsourced translation is that, in my opinion, the translation of science involves more than linguistic problems. It also requires an awareness of context; of why the scientific activities were undertaken, as well as how they fit into the “world” to which they belong. Many crowdsourced translation projects do not take this into account, treating the translation of science as a linguistic problem. This is fallacious. So I participate to fix the errors that creep in.

My translations are generally to make information freely available, especially to make Guatemalan cultural subjects available in Spanish to Guatemalan nationals.

I taught myself German, by looking up every single word in a couple of books I wanted to read about my passionate hobby. I have translated a couple of books in that hobby for the German association regarding that hobby (gratis). Aside from practice, practice, practice, I have had no training in translation. I began the Wiki translations when I was unemployed for a considerable amount of time and there was an article in the German Wiki on my hobby that had a tiny article in English. The rest is history. It’s been a few years since I’ve contributed to Wikipedia, but it was a great deal of fun at the time. Translation is a great deal of work for me (I have several HEAVY German/English dictionaries), but I love the outcome. Can I help English speakers understand the information and the beauty of the original text?

There were very few Sri Lankans editing on English Wikipedia at that time and I manage to bring more in and translate and put content to Wikipedia so other language speakers can get to know that information. I was enjoying my effort and eventually I got the administrator-ship of Sinhala Wikipedia. From then onwards I was working there till I had to quit as I was started to engage more with my work and studies. Well that’s my story and I’m not a full time translator and I have no training or whatsoever regarding that translating.

As these comments show, the respondents had often complex reasons for helping with Wikipedia translations. Some saw it as an opportunity to disseminate information about certain language, cultural or religious groups (e.g. Guatemalans, Sri Lankans) to people within or outside these communities; others wanted to give back to communities or organizations they believed in (for instance, by helping other Wikipedians, by giving free/open-source software a wider audience). But intrinsic reasons seem most prominent. This is undoubtedly why, when respondents were asked to select just one reason for participating in a crowdsourced translation initiative, 47% chose “To make information available to language speakers”, 21% said they found the project intellectually stimulating, and 16% wanted to support the organization that launched the initiative. No one said that all of their previous responses were equally important, which shows that while many motivations are a factor, some played a more significant role than others in respondents’ decisions to volunteer for Wikipedia (and other crowdsourced translation initiatives).

That’s apparent, too, in the responses I received for the question “Have you ever consciously decided NOT to participate in a crowdsourced translation initiative?” The responses were split almost evenly between Yes (49%) and No (51%). The 36 respondents who said Yes were then asked why they had decided not to participate, and what initiative they hadn’t wanted to participate in. Here’s a chart that shows why respondents did not want to participate:
wikipedia translators-4 motivations for not participating

Unlike last time, when only a few respondents chose 1 or 2 motivations for participating, 15 of the 36 respondents chose only 1 reason, and 11 chose only two to explain why they decided not to participate (although they could have chosen up to four motivations). This means that almost 75% of respondents did not feel that their motives for not participating were as complex as their motives for participating. (Of course, it’s also possible that because this was one of the last questions on the survey, respondents were answering more quickly than they had earlier). I had expected that ideological reasons would play a significant role in why someone would not want to participate in a crowdsourced translation initiative (ie. that most respondents, being involved in a not-for-profit initiative like Wikipedia, would have reservations about volunteering for for-profit companies like Facebook), but the most common reason respondents offered was “I didn’t have time” (20 respondents, or 56%), followed by “I wasn’t interested” (12 respondents, or 33%). Only 7 didn’t want to work for free (in four cases, it was for Facebook, while the 3 other respondents didn’t mention what initiative they were thinking of), and only 9 said they didn’t want to support the organization that launched the initiative (Facebook in four cases, a local question-and-answer type service in another, Wikia and Wikipedia in two other cases). There was some overlap between these last two responses: only 12 respondents in all indicated that they didn’t want to work for free and/or support a particular organization.

I think these responses show how attitudes toward crowdsourced translation initiatives are divided, even among those who have participated in the same ones. Although 16 respondents had translated for Facebook (as I discussed in this post), and therefore did not seem ideologically opposed to volunteering for a for-profit company, 12 others had consciously decided not to do so. And even though respondents most commonly said they didn’t participate because they didn’t have time, we have seen that many respondents participated in Wikipedia translation projects because they found it satisfying, fun, challenging, and because they wanted to help disseminate information to people who could not speak the language in which the information was already available. So factors like these must also play a role in why respondents might not participate in other crowdsourced translation initiatives.

On that note, I think I’ll end this series of blog posts. If you want to read more about the survey results, you’ll have to wait until next year, when my article appears in The Translator. However, I did write another article about the ethics of crowdsourcing, and that’s coming out in Linguistica Antverpiensia in December, so you can always check that one out in the meantime. Although I was hoping to conduct additional surveys with participants in other crowdsourced translation initiatives like the TED Open Translation Project, I don’t think I’ll have time to do so in the near future, unless someone wanted to collaborate with me. If you’re interested, you can always email me to let me know.

[*] The online software I used for the survey didn’t allow me to prevent respondents from selecting more than four reasons. However, only 14 people did so: of the 76 respondents, 4 chose 5 reasons, 7 chose 6 reasons, and 3 chose 7 reasons. I didn’t exclude these 14 responses because the next question limited respondents to just 1 reason.

Wikipedia survey III (Recognition, Effects)

It’s been quite some time now since my last post about the Wikipedia survey results, and for that I must apologize. I was side-tracked by some unrelated projects and found it hard to get back to the survey. But I’ve just finished revising my article on this topic (which will be published in the November 2012 issue of The Translator), and that made me sit down to finish blogging about the survey results. This is the third of four posts. I had planned to look at motivations, effects and recognition all in one post, but it became too long, so I’ve split it into two. This one looks at the ways respondents were recognized for participating in crowdsourced projects and what impact (if any) their participation has had on their lives. The next one (which I will post later this week), looks at respondents’ motivations for participating in crowdsourced initiatives.

For anyone who comes across these posts after the article is published, I should mention that the discrepancy between the number of survey respondents in the article and on this blog (75 vs. 76) is because I received another response to the survey after I’d submitted the article for peer review. It was easier to include all 76 responses here, since I’m creating new graphs and looking at survey responses I didn’t have space to explore in the Translator article, but I didn’t update the data in the article because the new response didn’t change much on its own (+/-0.5% here and there) and would have required several hours work to recalculate the figures I cited throughout the 20+ pages.

I also want to thank Brian Harris for discussing these survey results on his blog. You can read his entry here or visit his blog, Unprofessional Translation, to read a number of very interesting articles about translation by non-professionals, including those working in situations of conflict, war, and natural disasters.

And on to the survey results:

Recognition
The survey asked respondents what (if any) recognition they had received for participating in a crowdsourced translation initiative. Although the question asked about the last initiative in which respondents had participated (rather than Wikipedia in particular), 63 of the 76 respondents indicated that Wikipedia was the last initiative in which they had been involved, so the responses are mainly representative of the recognition they received as Wikipedia translators. Here’s a chart summarizing the responses (click on it for a full-sized image):
wikipedia translators-recognition
As the chart illustrates, no respondents received financial compensation, either directly, by being paid for their work, or indirectly, by being offered a discount on their membership fees or other services. This really isn’t surprising, though, because most respondents were Wikipedia translators, and contributors to Wikipedia (whether translators or writers) are not paid for their work. In addition, since Wikipedia does not charge membership fees, there is nothing to discount. Unexpectedly, though, 20 respondents reported receiving no recognition at all–even though 17 of them listed Wikipedia as the last initiative in which they had been involved. Because Wikipedia records the changes made to its pages, anyone who had translated an article would have been credited on the history page. These 20 respondents may not have been aware of the history feature, or–more likely–they didn’t consider it a form a recognition.[*]

Receiving credit for the translation work (either directly beside the translation or via a profile page) was the most common type of recognition. Of the 18 respondents who selected “Other”, 10 reported being credited on the Wikipedia article’s history page, 1 said their name appeared in the translated software’s source code, 1 noted they had received some feedback on the Wiki Talk page, 1 mentioned receiving badges from Facebook, and the others mentioned their motivations (e.g. just wanted to help, translation became better, could refer to the translation in other academic work) or the effect their involvement had on their careers (e.g. higher rate of pay for translating/interpreting duties at work). I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this enhanced visibility for translators and translation in an article that will appear in Linguistica Antverpiensia later this year, so I won’t elaborate here, except to say that crediting translators, and providing a record of the changes made to translations makes translation a more visible activity and provides researchers with a large corpus of texts that can be compared and analyzed. In fact, I think Wikipedia’s translations are an untapped wealth of material that can help us better understand how translations are produced and revised by both professional and non-professional translators.

Effects
Finally, I asked respondents whether/how their participation in a crowdsourced translation initiative had impacted their lives. Here’s another chart that summarizes the results (again, click on the image to see it in full size):
Wikipedia translators-impact
I was surprised to see that 38 respondents (or 51%) didn’t feel their participation had had some sort of impact: after all, why they would continue volunteering if they were not getting something (even personal satisfaction) out of the experience? However, this may be a problem with the question itself, as I hadn’t listed “personal satisfaction” as an option. If I had, (and I would definitely make this change to the next survey), the responses might have been different. As it is, of the 16 respondents who selected “Other”, 8 indicated that participating gave them personal satisfaction, a sense of pride in their accomplishments, a feeling of gratification, etc. Here are a few of their comments:

Pride in my accomplishments, although I am an amateur translator. I did some cool stuff!

I have the immense satisfaction of knowing that my efforts are building a free information project and hope that my professionalism raises the quality bar for other contributors who see my work (e.g. edit summaries, citations of sources, etc.)

I was spending my spare time on Wikipedia and sharing my knowledge. Moreover I was enjoying what I was doing. That’s it.

As for the rest of the responses in the “Other” category: One person noted that they had been thanked by other Wikipedia users for the translation, another remarked that they had been thanked by colleagues for contributing to “open-source intellectual work”, two said they had learned new things, one had met new Facebook friends, one said they had been asked to do further translation work for the project, two noted they had been invited to participate in this survey, and one (a part-time translation professor) said “My students consider my classes as a useful and positive learning experience” because they help translate for Wikipedia together.

Nearly 1/3 of respondents (22 of the 76) felt they had received feedback that helped improve their translation skills, and I think this point is important: the open nature of Wikipedia (and many other crowdsourced projects) provides an excellent forum for exchanging ideas and commenting on the work of others. But this is also a point that deserves further study, since so few of the respondents reported having training or professional experience translating.

Interestingly, some of the more tangible effects of participating in a crowdsourced initiative, such as receiving job offers and meeting new clients or colleagues, were not often experienced by the survey respondents. I wonder whether the results would be the same if this survey were given to participants in other types of initiatives (translation of for-profit websites such as Facebook, or localization of Free/open-source software such as OmegaT). The results do show, however, that volunteering for crowdsourced translation initiatives has had some positive (and a few negative) effects on the careers and personal lives of the participants, and that personal satisfaction is also an important motivator.

[*]
An interesting aside is that of the 20 respondents who reported receiving no recognition, 5 also indicated they had received other forms of recognition, such as their names appearing beside the translation, an updated profile page, or feedback on their work. Respondents may have been thinking of all projects in which they had been involved, instead of the last one, which the question asked about. These 5 respondents all indicated that Wikipedia was the last initiative in which they had been involved.

Wikipedia survey II (Types of Participation)

This is a follow-up to last month’s post describing preliminary results from a survey of Wikipedia translators. To find out about the survey methodology and the respondent profiles, please read this post first.

I initially planned for this survey to be one of several with translators from various crowdsourced projects, so I wrote the participation-related questions hoping to compare the types of crowdsourced translation initiatives people decide to participate in and what roles they play in each one. I haven’t yet had time to survey participants in other initiatives (and, truth be told, I probably won’t have time to do so in the near future), so the responses to the next few questions will have to be only a partial glimpse of the kinds of initiatives crowdsourcing participants get involved in. Here’s a table illustrating the responses to the question about which crowdsourced translation initiatives respondents had participated in. As expected, virtually all respondents had helped translate for Wikipedia. The one respondent who did not report translating for Wikipedia participated in Translatewiki.net, with a focus on MediaWiki, the wiki platform originally designed for Wikipedia.

Initiative No. of respondents Percentage
Wikipedia 75 98.7%
Facebook 16 21.3%
Free/Open-source software projects (software localization and/or documentation translation for F/OSS projects such as OmegaT, Concrete5, Adium, Flock, Framasoft) 7 9.2%
Translatewiki.net 2 2.7%
TEDTalks 2 2.7%
The Kamusi Project 1 1.3%
Ifixit 1 1.3%
Forvo 1 1.3%
Translated.by 1 1.3%
Anobii 1 1.3%
Science-fiction fandom websites 1 1.3%
Traduwiki 1 1.3%
Orkut 1 1.3%
Der Mundo (Wordwide Lexicon) 1 1.3%
The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Page 1 1.3%

A few points I found interesting. First, I was surprised to see that respondents had participated in such a diverse range of projects. I had expected that because Wikipedia was a not-for-profit initiative, participants would be less likely to have helped translate for for-profit companies like Facebook and Twitter; however, after Wikipedia, Facebook was the initiative that had attracted the most participants. Second, I was intrigued by the fact that almost 10% of respondents were involved in open-source software translation/localization projects. I hypothesized that the respondents who had reported working in the IT sector or studying computer science would be the ones involved in the F/OSS projects, but that was not always the case: when I broke down the data, I found that people from a variety of fields (a high school student, an economics student, two medical students, a translator, a software developer, a fundraiser, etc.) had helped translate/localize F/OSS projects. I think these results really indicate a need to specifically study F/OSS translation projects to see whether the Wikipedia respondents are representative of the participants.

Next, I asked respondents how they had participated in crowdsourced translation projects (as translators, revisers, project managers, etc.) and how much time per week, on average, they had spent participating in their last crowdsourced translation initiative.

Here’s a graph illustrating how respondents had participated in various crowdsourced translation projects. They were asked to select all ways they had been involved, even if it varied from one project to another. This means that the responses are not indicative of participation in Wikipedia alone:
wikipedia translators-roles played

As the graph shows, translation was the most common means of participation, but that wasn’t surprising, because I had invited respondents based on whether they had translated for Wikipedia. However, a significant number of respondents had also acted as revisers/editors, and some had participated in other ways, such as providing links to web resources and participating in the forums. I think this graph shows how crowdsourced translation initiatives allow people with various backgrounds and experiences to participate in ways that match their skills: for instance, someone with weaker second-language skills can help edit the target text in his or her mother tongue, catching typos and factual errors. And someone with a background in a particular field can share links to resources or answer questions about concepts from that field, without necessarily having to do any translating. So when we speak of crowdsourced translation initiatives, it’s important to consider that these initiatives allow for more types of involvement than translating in the narrow sense of providing a TL equivalent for a ST.

Finally, I asked participants how many hours they spent on average, per week, participating in the last crowsourced translation initiative in which they were involved. Here’s a graph that illustrates the answers I received:
wikipedia translators-hours per week

As you can see, most respondents spent no more than five hours per week participating in a crowdsourced translation initiative. On the surface, this may seem to provide some comfort to the professional translators who object to crowdsourcing as a platform for translation, since these Wikipedia respondents did not spend enough time per week on a translation to equal a full-time job; however, hundreds of people volunteering four or five hours per week can still produce enough work to replace several full-time professionals. Not-for-profit initiatives like Wikipedia, where article authors, illustrators and translators all volunteer their time are probably not as problematic to the profession, since professional translators would probably never have been hired to translate the content anyway, but for-profit initiatives such as Facebook are more ethically ambiguous. I’ve discussed some of these ethical problems in an article that will be published in Linguistica Antverpiensia later this year, in an issue focusing on community translation.

In a few weeks, I’ll post the results of the last few survey questions, the ones focusing on motivations for participating, the rewards/incentives participants have received and the effect(s) their participation has had on their lives and careers.

Wikipedia survey I (Respondent profiles)

This is the first in a series of posts about the results of my survey of Wikipedians who have translated content for the Wikimedia projects (e.g. Wikipedia). Because I’ve already submitted an article analyzing the survey, these posts will be less analytical and more descriptive, although I will be able to discuss some of the survey questions I didn’t have space for in the paper. This post will look at the profiles of the 76 Wikipedians who responded to the survey (and whom I’d like to thank once again for their time).

Survey Methodology
I wanted to randomly invite Wikipedia translators to complete the survey, so I first consulted various lists of English translators (e.g. the Translators Available page and the Translation/French/Translators page) and added these usernames to a master list. Then, for each of the 279 languages versions on the List of Wikipedias page*, I searched for a Category: Translators page for translations from that language into English (ie. Category: Translators DE-EN, Category: Translators FR-EN, etc.). I added the usernames in the Category: Translators pages to the names on the master list, and removed duplicate users. This process led to a master list with the names of 1866 users who had volunteered to translate Wikipedia content into English. I then sent out invitations to 204 randomly selected users from the master list, and 76 (or 37%) of them responded. A few caveats: additional Wikipedians have probably translated content for the encyclopedia without listing themselves on any of the pages I just mentioned. Moreover, anyone can generally edit (and translate) Wikipedia pages without creating an account, so the results of the survey probably can’t be generalized for all English Wikipedia translators, let alone Wikipedia translators into the other 280 languages, who are not necessarily listed on the English Wikipedia pages I consulted. Finally, although 76 Wikipedians may not seem like many respondents, it is important to note that many of the users on the master list did not seem to have ever translated anything for Wikipedia: when I consulted their user contribution histories, I found that some Wikipedians had added userboxes to their profile pages to indicate their desire to translate but had not actually done anything else. I was interested only in the views of people who had actually translated, so the 76 respondents actually represents a much larger share of actual Wikipedia translators than it appears.

Profiles
The vast majority of the respondents (64 respondents, or 84%) were male and most were 35 years of age or younger (57 of the respondents, or 75% were under 36). This result is not surprising, given the findings of a 2008 general survey of more than 176,000 Wikipedia users, where 50% of the respondents were 21 years of age or under (in all, 76% were under 30) and 75% were male.

When respondents were asked about translation-related training, most (51 respondents or 68%) responded that they had no formal training in translation. Here’s a graph with a breakdown for each response:
Wikipdia translators-training

Given that respondents were generally young and usually did not have formal training in translation, it’s not surprising that 52 of the 76 respondents (68.4%) had never worked as translators (ie. they had never been paid to produce translations). Only 11 respondents (or about 14%) were currently working as translators on a full- or part-time basis, while 13 (or about 17%) had worked as translators in the past but were not doing so now. So it’s not surprising either that only two respondents were members of a professional association of translators.

Finally, when asked about their current occupations, respondents reported working in range of fields. I’ve grouped them as best I could, using the Occupational Structure proposed by Human Resources and Development Canada. Two respondents did not answer this question, but here’s an overview of the 74 other responses:

Occupation No. of respondents Percentage
Student
    6 High school students
    4 College/University students (languages)
    17 College/University students (other fields)
27 36%
Works in IT sector 11 15%
Works in language industry 9 12%
Works in another sector (e.g. graphic design, law, education) 8 11%
Works in business, finance or administration 7 9%
Unemployed/stay-at-home parent/retired 5 7%
Academic 3 4%
Engineer 2 3%
Works in sales and service industry 2 3%
Total: 74 100%

Later this week (or early next week), I’ll look at the types of crowdsourced translation initiatives the respondents were involved in (other than Wikipedia, of course), and the roles they played in these initiatives. After that, I’ll discuss respondent motivations for volunteering and the impact their participation has had on their lives.


* There are now 281 Wikipedia versions.