Friday, September 17, 2010


After years of working with the Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's international Dictionary, I recently purchased the American Heritage Dictionary because I had been led to believe that this dictionary looks to the future, that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive and offers advice on appropriate usage. So, when I looked for the word commoditization", I was surprised to learn that the preferred term is "commodification". No matter, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" or, depending upon your point of view, as foul.

Ten, even five years ago, I would never have imagined that translation could become a commodity in the way that it has. Now, overwhelmingly, it is sold on the basis of price, a price that is based upon the word count in the source language (before we even take into account TM, with repetitions, fuzzy matches, etc.), which assumes that translation is nothing more than matching words. This is a far-reaching topic and it deserves our attention.

Yesterday my friend and colleague Bernie Bierman copied me on an email he sent to his clients. This was an eye-opener for me in that I had just gone along with the general switch in the industry to payment being based on the target language. I had never even thought about how truly "unprofessional" those odd-ball amounts are.

I am posting Bernie's message because I feel that it is indeed an important message. The things that he points out are things that we should all be thinking about. The idea that translation is about words and numbers of words is taking us in a direction that I believe is dehumanizing. There will be more on that topic in future posts--and I promise that they will be forthcoming. In the meantime, I offer Bernie's message and invite everyone to comment on it.

Dear Client:

I am sending you this message not just to explain or re-explain my fees for translation and how I bill for them, but also more importantly to apprise you of a certain business philosophy which you yourselves might want to consider as applicable to your own clients.

The fees I charge for my translation services are based upon a TARGET LANGUAGE COUNT. The source language count means absolutely nothing to me except as a rough guide to the volume of the particular job or project. Indeed, source language counts are meaningless to me, both from the point of view of the end-product and the invoicing for that product.

Permit me at this point to impart some philosophy (or perhaps "philosophy") about translation and the translation process, and in an effort to catch your attention - which I hope will be undivided - I shall write what follows in larger, bold-face characters:

Translation (and) the translation process, is (are) not about words...big words, little words, short words, long words, whole words or particles of words. It is equally not about numbers or names or formulas or equations. Translation is about writing and communication. Indeed, before the so-called "wizards" of technology came long in the late 1990's or early 2000's, translation was viewed by many as one branch of the communications arts. Indeed, from any clear point of view, whether objective or subjective, translation is about writing and communication. It is not about word-matching, as some if not many of today's technologically-obsessed translators, CAT workers and CAT operators believe.

As a translator I am a writer and communications specialist. I think and write in the TARGET LANGUAGE (which in my case happens to be English). Indeed, what can be said with 10 source language words, oftentimes needs 15 or 16 or 17 target language words, and conversely what sometimes can be said with those same 10 source language words might require just a mere 5 or 6 target language words.

Thus, the end-product which you receive from me is a TARGET LANGUAGE product, and that precisely is the product which your client will read, use and act upon. In more than a manner of speaking, the source language text is merely a reference text. It is not the end-product of the service that I am rendering to you, and which you in turn are rendering your client.

Some of you may counter the foregoing by asking, "OK, How do we provide our client with an exact, down-to-the-penny quote?" If you would like an answer to that question, please feel free to write to me, and I'll be happy to provide you with an answer based upon my 35 years of experience as a successful translation service company owner and executive and that of literally hundreds of my former colleagues and competitors in the business.

Finally, permit me to reiterate another important aspect of my invoicing. You will never receive an invoice from me for so-called odd-ball amounts like $67.31 or $283.94 and $1,131.76. Why? Because on texts over 1000 target-language counts, I round off to the nearest 100. Hence 1234 words = 1200 words and 1278 words = 1300. For texts having less than 1000 words, I round off to the nearest 50. Hence, 724 words = 700 words and 832 words = 850. But in the final analysis, you are not paying me for words (the word count is used merely as an equitable basis for billing). You are paying me for a unique communications skill and my attendant knowledge and experience.

I thank you for your attention to this message, and should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.


Bernie Bierman

No comments:

Post a Comment