Monday, September 27, 2010


Several people sent me emails about my last post rather than making comments here. Two in particular had to do with Bernie Bierman's email to his clients, and I passed them along to him. So that the discussion can continue, I am publishing his reply below:

Dear Jodi and dear Aliza,

Rosene Zaros, the publisher of this blog and journal informed me that both of you disagreed with me – in slightly different ways - on the matter of charging on the basis of target language words. I would be truly shocked if there were more than ten persons in the entire world of translation who agreed with me, not just on this issue, but on any other translation-related issue.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have even written my “letter to my clients”, for it was based solely and totally upon erroneous thinking, and worse upon truly dinosauric concepts. In a phrase, I should have listened to the voices bellowing in unison, “Hey, Bernie, get with the program”. Stupidly, or unwisely, I chose to ignore those voices and proceeded along on my hind legs. If someone called me a slang term denoting the egress of the rectal canal, he, she or they would have been absolutely correct..

You see, my very dear ladies, when I wrote my letter to the client, I was still cemented into the thinking and attendant belief that there are still more than a sufficient number of translators in this vast world who perceive of themselves as writers, as specialists in communications, as persons having knowledge (profound or peripheral) of certain or many subjects, or for the very least the terminology, the phraseology and the writing styles of those subjects. Indeed, as I was writing my words, I kept laboring under this very antiquated notion that in the ultimate the fee of a practitioner in this business – whether an individual translator or a translation service company – was really based upon some very unique skills combined with knowledge and other gray matter components, and all wrapped up in a package labeled “communications service”. And I further kept laboring under the equally antiquated notion that the word count was merely the best of all of the other inadequate methods (e.g., per line, per stroke, per hour, per coffee break) to be used as a mere reference upon which this fee for a communications service could be based. I really don’t know what possessed me to keep thinking in a period of time that now seems like at least one thousand years ago.

Incidentally, the reason that gave rise to the writing of my letter to my (ever dwindling number of) clients was US$4.80. Yes, that’s right, US$4.80. No, not US$48.00 or US$480 or US$4800, but US$4.80. If you yourselves don’t see the picture, I do believe you see my drift. (At least I hope so).

There are at least two (2) facts of the matter that I should have paid more attention to and carefully considered before writing my letter to my clients. While I have every reason to believe that both of you are fully acquainted with these particular facts of the matter, permit me to address them merely for the sake of the few fellow dinosaurs who may read this tract, and whose understanding of the ways of modern translation need remediation. The first is that there are fewer and fewer translators involved in the translation industry. Translators, as we knew and defined them once upon a fairly short time ago, have been replaced by a genus called CAT workers or CAT operators (a genus somewhat akin to the now-defunct keypunch operator). The second fact of the matter is that with the ever-growing dominance of CAT, it is the computer that undertakes a so-called “scientific” analysis of the text to be translated, comparing it to texts that have been previously translated and stored in its memory, an analysis that includes not just the exact number of words to be translated from “scratch”, but also the number of words that may be similar to those already in the memory; this process is called “matching” and the computer undertakes all sorts and manner of calculations to determine percentages of this “matching”. All of these analyses and calculations of matching percentages are done on the basis of the text to be translated, i.e., the source language text, and the CAT worker or operator is told right from the get-go precisely how many (SL) words he or she will have to “translate” and how much he or she will be paid for those “translated” words. And there is no arguing by the CAT operator with either the computer or the translation agency. (Of course, this latter aspect raises some interesting questions of independent contractorship, but that’s another story for another day.)

Anyway, arguments/discussions/debates/discourses about TL-SL counts are now meaningless; the computer has become and is unquestionably the undisputed master and sole arbiter of this aspect of the translation process, and both the translation agencies and the hordes of CAT operators who labor for those agencies now worship fervently at the altar of this omniscient and omnipotent deity.

If my letter to my clients said anything, it said that I am of the age of the quill pen and parchment paper. And now I shall take leave of you to get into my horse-drawn carriage and repair to the blacksmith.

Always your Most Hbl., Dvt. & Obt. Svt.,

(Hell, if I am to be classified as a dinosaur, I just as well write like one, eh?)

Bernie Bierman

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