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.

The Paratextual Elements in Translation

I have just learned that my proposal for an upcoming conference on paratexts and translation, to be held at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona from June 21-23, 2010 has been accepted. I will be presenting a paper closely related to my doctoral thesis. It focuses on the motivations behind the translations of controversial, polemical or revolutionary works. In it, I compare the motivations of translators and publishers, and discuss instances in which publishers, translators and other agents clearly do not have the same motivations for disseminating such translations.

For my doctoral dissertation, I interviewed two translators of polemical works, but I’ve been gradually contacting other translators to better explore the motivations behind the essays written in Canada by English- and French-speaking writers such as Mordecai Richler and Pierre Vallières. What I really hope to discover in these interviews is what motivated the English translations of French-language works advocating the independence of Quebec and the French translations of English-language works satirizing and criticizing French-speaking Quebec politicians, institutions and legislation.

I’ll post some updates as I contact additional translators. I’m looking forward to this conference, as the presentations should be exploring paratextual elements in various aspects of translation studies. The final program should be interesting. More on the conference later…


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.

LISA @ Berkeley

Recently, I returned from the Berkeley Globalization Conference at the University of California. The conference was co-hosted by LISA and the University of California, Berkeley, and it was the first LISA event to be targeted at both academics and industry professionals rather than just the latter. The format worked well, I think, because, unlike many of the academic conferences I’ve attended in the past, industry professionals were in the audience and could give feedback with a different perspective. I know that some of the questions and comments I received after my presentation on websites localized for Canadians were very useful, and I’ll be addressing these views in the revised paper I’m polishing up for Translation Studies.

I really enjoyed two presentations in particular, as they were closely related to my own area of research: one studied websites localized for two French-speaking locales (Belgium and France), while the other studied websites localized for Spanish-speaking users in various countries. The first presentation relied heavily on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, with which I have some quibbles (but more on that in a future post), and the second used corpus linguistics to compare the content of localized and domestic websites, demonstrating that localized websites rarely look and feel the same as locally produced sites. Both gave me some new ideas for methodological approaches to analyzing localized sites, something I came to the conference seeking.

A third presentation pointed out some works I hadn’t heard of before, while a fourth brought up some more examples of for-profit websites seeking crowdsourced localization. This is an area that as intrigued me since I started studying translator blogs and learned about the LinkedIn controversy. I think there’s great potential for some scholarly work in this area. Two questions that come to mind are: what are translator attitudes toward crowdsourcing by for-profit and not-for profit companies and how does crowdsourcing affect translation quality (i.e. does community approval help improve the translation?)