Some of my favourite talks from the CATS conference at Brock University

I’ve just returned from the 27th annual conference organized by the Canadian Association for Translation Studies, which was held at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario this year. The theme was “Translation: Territories, Memory, History”, and although a number of the talks addressed topics you might expect to find in this theme, namely the history of translated texts in regions like Asia, Latin America and Brazil, others were more broadly related, addressing subjects like the history of language technologies in Canada, or “new territories” like fansubbing norms. Since many of these topics are likely to interest to people who weren’t able to attend, I thought I would summarize some of my favourite presentations and offer a few thoughts on the wider implications of these research questions. Very roughly, the talks I most enjoyed can be grouped into three broad, and somewhat overlapping, categories that also match my own research interests: technological, professional and pedagogical concerns.

Technological Concerns

Two talks on technology-related topics were particularly intriguing: Geneviève Has, a doctoral candidate at Université Laval, spoke about the history of language technologies in Canada, focusing particularly on the role of the federal government in projects like TAUM-MÉTÉO, the very successful machine-translation system for meteorology texts, and RALI, a lab that developed programs like the bilingual concordancer TransSearch. Has explored some of the reasons why entire research labs or specific research projects had been dismantled, and noted that when emphasis is placed on producing marketable results within a set period of time, funding is often pulled from projects if the results are not what the funders are looking for, even if useful research is being produced by the lab. For instance, the quest to develop a machine translation system as successful as TAUM-MÉTÉO led to later systems being abandoned when the results were not as impressive.

Valérie Florentin, a doctoral candidate at the Université de Montréal, meanwhile, gave a fascinating talk on fansubbing norms, noting that in the English to French community she studied, online forum discussions between the fansubbers showed how they wanted to ensure the subtitles would be easily understood by francophones in various countries. Thus, they avoided regionalisms as well as expressions and cultural references they thought typical viewers would not understand. They also followed style guidelines to ensure the subtitles, on which various people had collaborated, would be consistent in terms of things like whether characters should use tu or vous to address one another. In her conclusions, she wondered whether the collaborative model used by this fansubbing community (in which about eight people translate and review the subtitles for any given episode) could be useful in professional communities. Recognizing that it would be unfeasible to expect companies to pay this many people to work on a project (even if each person was doing less work than they would if they prepared the subtitles alone), she argued that the model could be useful in training contexts, allowing students to debate with one another about cultural concerns and equivalents, while also following a set of style guidelines to ensure consistency in the final product. I found this suggestion particularly relevant to my own teaching, since I like to try collaborative models with my students, and since I have argued in other talks that crowdsourcing models often offer elements that could be adopted in professional translation, such as greater visibility for the translators who work on projects.

Professional Concerns

Marco Fiola, from Ryerson University and Aysha Abughazzi, from Jordan University of Science and Technology, both spoke on translation quality. While Marco’s presentation explored competing definitions of translation quality and specifically addressed issues like understandability and usability, Aysha spoke about translation quality in Jordan, discussing the qualifications of translators and the quality of translations she obtained from various agencies. Both of these talks underscored for me the difficulty translators and translation scholars continue to have when defining quality and in determining what “professional” translation should look like.

Pedagogical Concerns

Philippe Caignon, an associate professor at Concordia University, offered an excellent presentation on concept mapping and cognitive mapping, illustrating how these can be useful for students in terminology courses as an alternative to tree diagrams. Although he didn’t show the software itself, he did mention that Cmap Tools can be used to create concept maps fairly easily. As I listened to his talk, I decided I could incorporate concept mapping into the undergraduate Theory of Translation course I usually teach, to help students think about the terms translation and translation studies. I think examples like this one would help students see how they can visualize translation, and if they had a few minutes to work on their concept map individually before discussing their map with the rest of the class, I think we would be able to explore the different ways translation can be understood. More on this after I’ve tried it out in class.

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.

CATS Conference at Concordia University, Part II

Well, it’s now more than a month since I got back from Concordia, and I’ve only just gotten around to writing about a really interesting presentation I attended while I was away. I put the blame squarely on house-hunting and the subsequent packing, moving and unpacking, which all required more time than I was expecting. And what’s more, I had no access to the Internet for over two weeks, which really inhibited me from writing a few blog posts and finishing up my research on translation blogs.

Now that I finally have wireless again at home, I’m sitting down to write a summary of the presentation by Philippe Caignon at the 23rd CATS conference. He spoke about his decision to use blogs as a pedagogical tool in his terminology class last year, when he chose a topic (green economics) and had students blog about terminology in this field. Students were graded only on their blogs, which they had to present in front of the class on a weekly basis. Their classmates could then offer constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Philippe noted that adding blogs to the course led to several positive results. For instance, there was better collaboration among the students, who gave each other advice; students paid more attention to their spelling/grammar and to their sources, since their peers could read and comment on their postings; and students felt free to be as creative as they wanted, which may not have happened in a traditional terminology course. However, he did have to spend class time teaching students how to create a blog, as many of them didn’t know how to go about it. The students also complained that they were spending too much time on their blogs tweaking the appearance, widgets, etc., and Philippe found that the creativity manifested by the students led to such diverse blogs that he had to spend much more time marking their work than he would have if he had assigned another type of project.

What intrigued me the most in the presentation was the assessment rubric. Students were graded on various aspects of their blogs, including the quality and originality of the blog, student responses to comments from their peers, the evolution in the blog’s quality and the student’s critical thinking, and the relevance of the student’s comments on other blogs. I think this kind of rubric would greatly encourage collaboration among students and I also believe this model could be adapted for a translation theory course. Students could write weekly comments on the readings and the topics seen in class. And every week, two or three students could spend ten minutes presenting their blogs (and their thoughts on the previous week’s topics) to the class. Blogs also allow students to share links to videos or podcasts, which could enrich our in-class discussions.

It’s too bad that I won’t be teaching the translation theory course again this year, because I would have liked to have used blogs as a teaching tool, now that I’ve prepared most of the course material. However, I will still keep this idea in mind, as I’ve proposed a master’s-level course on political translation, and I think blogs could be incorporated into that course instead. If I do work something out, I’ll write another post about what I decided to do. I’d really like to hear from professors who have already used blogs as teaching tools in their translation courses, or from students who have any thoughts on blogs in the classroom, so please add a comments or send me an email if you’d like to share your experiences.

CATS Conference at Concordia University, Part I

I recently returned from Montreal, where I was attending the 23rd annual conference of the Canadian Association for Translation Studies. Because this year’s theme was methodology, Daniel Gile and Andrew Chesterman were the keynote speakers. In their presentations, they reminded us of the methodological problems that can arise in academic research and offered some solutions for preventing these kinds of problems. I won’t go over everything they said, but I will highlight a few points that were most relevant to me. In a few days, I’ll write another post about a presentation I really enjoyed on incorporating blogs into a terminology class.

Daniel Gile’s presentation focused on how to make research more rigorous. As Gile pointed out, one of the problems with doing research in translation studies is that the field is very interdisciplinary. Translation scholars often need to adopt research methods from other fields (literary studies, history, philosophy, sociology, etc.) but are not necessarily trained in these methods. He argued that translation researchers should therefore either work closely with researchers in other fields or specialize in one or two of these methods themselves. They also need to make sure that they have a basic understanding of other research methods so that they understand the advantages and disadvantages of the methods in which they’ve chosen to specialize.

Andrew Chesterman focused on a more specific aspect of research methodology, namely how to formulate an effective hypothesis. He emphasized that a good descriptive hypothesis needs to be testable (in various ways), have theoretical implications (i.e. it should counter or support other existing hypotheses), be applicable (i.e. relevant to practical or social problems), have surprise value (i.e. it should support criteria that are not generally accepted), and have explanatory power (i.e. it should explain causes, make sense of other data, help develops laws, provide context to specific cases, etc.). His presentation reminded me once again of how important it is to consider—before you actually get started on a research project—whether the results you’re likely to get will be useful. It’s one of the reasons I focus so much on applied research… I’m able to see the practical implications much more easily than I can with theoretical research. That’s not to say that theoretical research can’t be practical… It’s just that I can more easily draw links between practical problems translators face, such as how to decide what kinds of decisions are professionally ethical, and applied research like studying professional codes of ethics to see where gaps exist.

What these and other presentations underscored for me the need to collaborate with researchers from other fields when translation scholars are conducting research. The only catch that I could see was that the research would have to be of enough interest to the statistician or the sociologist for them to invest any time collaborating with the translation studies researcher. After all, if the sociologist is going to help design a survey or help analyze translator behaviour using social network analysis, the results would need to be valuable enough that co-authoring a paper with the translation studies researcher would benefit both parties. My resolution for next year’s conference is to make a point of attending presentations by academics working in other fields on projects that are similar to my own research interests (translation blogs, translator networks, translator motivations, crowdsourcing) so that I can see whether I can find someone else to collaborate with. Usually, when I attend these congresses, I’m so focused on attending the CATS presentations that I don’t have time to check out the other associations, but I’ve really seen the value in making contacts outside my field. After all, I can always swap translation services for some help mapping the networking behaviour of translators who blog. Any takers?

Translation Blogs I

Now that classes have finished and marks have been submitted, I can finally get back to the research I left behind last summer: analyzing translation blogs to determine:

  • Which blogs are the most influential
  • How blogs are used by translators (are bloggers anonymous or do they identify themselves and provide links to their professional services?)
  • What type of content can be found in the blogs (e.g. personal diary-like entries, book reviews, translation-industry news/announcements, reflections on the practice of translation)
  • How long (on average) the most (and least) influential blogs have been online, and
  • Whether there’s a link between a blog’s content and longevity and its influence among other bloggers

I’ll be presenting the results of my research at the CATS congress at Concordia University in a few weeks, but I wanted to write a few posts here first to give an overview of my research, along with a few of my findings. I’ll post more details after the conference.

One of the problems I had while I was trying to determine which translation blogs are the most influential is that no comprehensive list of blogs exists. (Some partial lists have been draw up by two translation bloggers. This one by Sarah Dillon, the blogger behind There’s Something about Translation, includes over 100 blogs, while this one from Christine at Polyglot Blog offers links to approximately 90 translation blogs in English, French, Spanish Portuguese, Dutch, German, Italian, Arabic and Polish).

The fact that no one really knows how many translation blogs exist means I couldn’t just list them all and then rank them according to the number of inbound links. Instead, I started with a sample of 25 blogs about translation, which I randomly chose from the 2009 LexioPhiles Top Language Blogs nominees (Language Professionals Category). I then consulted six months of blog postings (January to June 2009) on each of the 25 blogs to determine what content was offered, how many posts were created each month, how many comments were made on each post, and how many other translation blogs were cited by the bloggers. I did not count the blogs listed in the blogrolls of my sample group because a blog that is listed in a blogger’s blogroll is not necessarily read by that blogger. I counted only blogs that were directly quoted or linked to by a blogger in one of his or her posts. Finally, I checked the date of each blog’s first post so that I could draw conclusions about how a blog’s age affected its influence among translation bloggers.

The 25 blogs in my sample cited numerous translation blogs—57 in fact, including 15 that were already part of my sample group. This fact surprised me, as I had expected that a few blogs would stand out as being very influential (ie. as being cited numerous times by various bloggers), but I hadn’t expected that so many different blogs would be cited only once or twice by a single person. Instead, I found that a whopping 42 blogs (or 74% of the 57 blogs) were linked to or quoted by a single blogger from my sample group of 25. I have a few hypotheses to explain this finding.

The first is that bloggers may be reading many other translation blogs but not quoting from them for their own posts. Some of the blogs had a significant number of comments on each post (e.g. Algo más que traducir and Masked Translator, neither of which were ranked in the top 10 but which had an average of 8.17 and 6.44 comments per post, respectively), which indicates that other bloggers, instead of using their own blogs to respond to what they had read somewhere else, commented directly on the original poster’s blog and only occasionally wrote a post in response.

The second is that some bloggers are simply outliers in the sense that they do not cite other bloggers and are not cited by anyone. This was the case, for instance, with Se Habla English? and The Translation and Interpretation Blog. Next week, I’ll write more about this point, as I’m going to look into whether a number of strong-tie blogger communities exist (meaning that a number of blogging translators regularly cite one another and comment on each others’ blogs), even though most translators who blog do not belong to such communities.

The third is that because such a significant number of translation blogs exist, not all of them are being widely read. Moreover, readership often depends on the blogger’s language pairs: There’s a strong link between the language pairs of the blogger who is cited and the blogger who does the citing. The twenty-five blogs I studied were written in either English, French or Spanish—or in the case of Fidus Interpres, in a combination of English and Portuguese—and the blogs that were cited were written in either English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, or a combination of these languages. I’m sure translators are blogging in other languages as well (since Technorati’s 2006 Q3 State of the Blogosphere report indicated that English, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese posts made up less than half the posts indexed by the search engine*), but these blogs haven’t turned up in any of the outbound links in my initial 25-blog sample. For this reason, I’m now sampling another six months of postings from 25 blogs I’ve randomly selected out of the 57 that were cited by my initial sample group. This should help show whether the blogs I’ve listed as the most influential really are influential among many bloggers or only among the 25 in my initial sample group. I’ll post the results next week. For now, though, I thought I’d share my initial ranking of translator blogs. Next week, I’ll compare this ranking to the revised ranking after I’ve studied my second sample of 25 blogs. I’ll also compare the revised ranking with Google Reader subscribers and Techonrati Authority.

To determine how “influential” a blog is among translator bloggers, I counted the number of times a particular blog was linked to/cited by another blogger. I then weighted the results, giving a blog one point for every reference to the blog and two points for every blogger who linked to the blog. For example, Translation Times was quoted 4 times by 3 of the 25 bloggers, giving it a score of 10 (4 citations x 1 point + 3 bloggers x 2 points), while Musings from an Overworked Translator was quoted 7 times by 5 bloggers, giving it a score of 17 (7 citations x 1 point + 5 bloggers x 2 points). Here’s the top 10 list:

Blog No. of citations No. of bloggers Score
Thoughts on Translation 12 7 26
There’s Something About Translation 8 5 18
Global Watchtower 9 4 17
Musings from an Overworked Translator 7 5 17
Matthew Bennett 5 5 15
Blogging Translator 4 3 10
Naked Translations 4 3 10
Translation Times 4 3 10
About Translation 3 3 9
The GITS Blog 3 3 9

More next week….

* Be sure to check out this link for details about the limitations to Technorati’s methods for determining the language of blog postings.

2010 CATS congress

I’ve just received confirmation that my paper for the 2010 CATS congress at Concordia University has been accepted. I’ll be presenting my research on translator blogs. Here’s the abstract of what I plan to talk about:

Are translators offended when a for-profit company seeks volunteers to translate its website? Should translators lower their rates in a down economy? How can translators educate clients about the challenges inherent to the profession? One way to determine what issues are contentious and/or relevant to translators today is to study the blogs that are currently maintained by language professionals. These blogs highlight attitudes toward clients, working conditions, and other aspects of the profession, indicating how the field is evolving and which views are espoused by opinion leaders. Using content analysis, this paper will explore approximately fifty translation blogs to determine which bloggers are the most influential, what issues these A-list blogs address, and how the stated goals of the blogs compare to their content. Further, it will explore the ways in which these blogs demonstrate competence and whether this one of the main motivations behind the blogs.

Last summer, as I mentioned a recent post, I analyzed six months of posts on twenty-five blogs to see how translators used their blogs and how often they identified themselves, linked to their professional websites and demonstrated translation competence through their postings. In April, once classes are finished here at York, I will be adding to this research for the CATS conference. First, I want to explore the role of translation bloggers as activists. To do this, I will be going back to the original twenty-five blogs to check out their posts immediately after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, to see whether any of these bloggers encouraged other translators to participate in some of the volunteer initiatives that were introduced by other translators, including this Facebook group launched by a Glendon MA student.

I also want to see whether it’s possible to determine which bloggers are the most influential. I plan to return to the twenty-five blogs and trace the links back to the blogger who wrote the first post on a topic that was later explored by other bloggers. These topics include the LinkedIn controversy, and the ProZ petition. While I may not be able to definitively tell which translators are the most influential bloggers, I do think I’ll be able to draw some tentative conclusions about how translation news and other information circulates among bloggers, whether certain people are quoted more often than others, and whether competence and anonymity play a role in how influential a blogger ultimately becomes. I’ll post more as my research continues, but in the meantime, I would certainly appreciate any comments other researchers and/or bloggers might have on this topic. If you’re a translator, do you blog, and if so, why? If you’re a researcher, do you regularly consult blogs, and if so, do you read those by translators, researchers, or both? Do you maintain your own blog? Have you discovered any trends about how translators or other professionals use blogs and other social media? I’m interested in anything you might have to say on the topic, so feel free to comment here or email me.


I’ve just returned from Ottawa, from a meeting with the rest of the Canadian Association for Translation Studies executive council on Friday. This summer, I became the secretary of the association, much to the delight of the president, who will no longer have to chair the meeting while also trying to write the minutes. Over the next few weeks, I will be redesigning and updating the CATS website, either myself or with the help of a programmer. We’d like to add a way for members to renew their membership and pay their dues online, which is what I’d like the programmer to worry about, but we’d also like to add more dynamic content, like a blog, perhaps, or at least more frequent announcements and an RSS feed for subscribers.

I’m excited about being able to update the website, which is sorely in need of a redesign. And, having never organized a conference, I was also interested to see the planning that goes into one. The conference that will be held at Concordia in May as part of the CFHSS annual congress promises to be the biggest one yet, and I’m looking forward to attending… and possibly speaking if I can get an abstract ready by the deadline to submit abstracts for papers that will be part of the open session. In a few weeks, I’ll write more about the progress on the CATS website.