How are research papers reviewed in other fields, and how can we apply those practices to the interpreting and translation field?
As we observe the publicity surrounding vaccination efforts, we notice that developers are called to follow established procedures in their research. These research procedures are documented and can be reviewed by others. Their reports are checked for conflicts of interest. This is a matter of public interest since 2016, when the public became aware that the studies promoting breakfast as the most important meal of the day had been funded by the cereal companies, as this Vox article points out. Today, transparency is developed to the point that the World Health Organization has a template for reporting the conflict of interest of all contributors to its papers. See page 92 of this document on physical activity. What do we require in the interpreting and translation field?
I will base many of my comments on two books:
- The General Theory of the Translation Company, by Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson, © 2017, nimdzi.com
- Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies, by Edgar Moros, © 2011, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing
When a new idea is presented in professional and scientific fields, it typically goes through a process of public discussion and debate, and over a period of time the concept is improved on or discarded.
In the translation and interpreting field, we have a different situation. Beninatto provides this list of participants. The Language Service Providers act as intermediaries:
- Contract Language Professionals (CLP)
- Language Service Providers (from small to large)
- Local In-Country Single Language Service Provider
- Regional Multiple Language Services Provider
- Multiple Language Services Provider
- Massive Multiple Language Service Provider
The CLPs are the independent contractors, the individuals who provide independent services. According to Beninatto, they are “the backbone of the industry,” and include interpreters and translators. Beninatto considers that it is increasingly rare to see CLPs working directly for Language Service Buyers (the people who order the translated documents). Because of the predominance of intermediaries, the practitioners are not generally able to explain their work to the people who need the work product itself.
I have developed another classification of translation and interpreting services providers based on my personal observation and standard business terminology.
Individual providers: They render all their services personally through direct contracts or as a subcontractor of one or more contractors (prime contractors).
Solopreneurs: Here they would be prime contractors, who hire subcontractors to provide services to complete the package the client needs such as providing a booth, editing services, desktop publishing, etc.
Small language service company or boutique language company. They generally specialize in a particular field and work in up to five languages. The owner renders some services directly in the languages for which they are personally qualified, and subcontracts other services to individual providers.
Larger language service company (more than 5 languages). The person who runs this company has less time to interpret and has to spend more time finding work for other interpreters and interfacing with clients.
The provider who engages directly with the translation services buyer becomes the prime contractor, and if the prime builds a team, the team members become subcontractors. This is standard business terminology across all business fields. Small businesses can be prime contractors and build teams with other subcontractors to provide a broader set of services.
Who defines the task an interpreter or translator does?
Moros (pages 20 and ff) states that when workers were not involved in describing their jobs, it led to significant problems. Stopwatch measurements of factory work were not objective, since workers and those who measured time did not agree on the definition on what the “task” was. Only managers defined tasks, assuming they were neutral, and paying attention only to their own interests. However, those doing the work have other interests that need to be considered, and human activity can’t always be measured, analyzed, and controlled the same way a physical object can be measured. The factory system of charging by the piece has been transferred to translations, where the product is often charged on a per word or per page basis, and fast workers make a better income. The quality of the product is not considered in this system.
Since translation and interpreting are essentially the transfer of messages constructed by human beings, this is a complex task that humans must carry out, and it is not a task that machines will be able to do effectively. It is important for practitioners to be involved in representing their profession and providing resource materials for users of translation services.
However, the language services field depends heavily on large language service companies as prime contractors, and therefore these businesses are the ones that provide most of the information to translation and interpreting clients.
Problems in our field
Beninatto identifies two problems in our field, and I added a third one:
Lack of outsider analysis. Beninatto says this is a problem because very few outsiders know much about the field. However, contract officers are learning more and more by analyzing the work product they receive.
Playing nice to avoid controversy (Beninatto). The CLPs depend on the intermediaries for a living. Therefore, writing documents that challenge material written by those who hire them could be difficult. What criteria have professional associations established for accepting article drafts? It is important to publish a variety of perspectives to avoid creating an echo chamber, as Mr. Beninatto calls it, in professional publications.
Lack of transparency regarding conflict of interest. When conflict of interest is not disclosed, and the information is generated by intermediaries, not practitioners, the profession may not be defined accurately.
How practical is it for practitioners to be involved?
Independent translators and interpreters are also in a difficult position. As the Theory of the Translation Company states (pg. 139), “LSPs rarely employ in-house linguists. Most linguistic services are outsourced, either to smaller LSPs or to freelance CLPs.” In other words, questioning the statements of an LSP can be dangerous in terms of workflow. Contractors have no protection if they fall out of favor with a client.
Where can practitioners publish?
It is possible for professional translators and interpreters to submit factual, well-researched articles to a professional association for publication. This is where independent contractors can publish the theory they are developing based on their daily practice of their profession, and help the profession grow.
The published articles should be reviewed by colleagues who have subject matter expertise in the topic and do not have a conflict of interest.
How to prepare an article
Consider your audience
What kind of role do your readers play? Are you writing to translation buyers, to translators and interpreters, to decision makers in government, to language companies?
Put yourself in their shoes and think of how they might respond, what they might need to know.
What do you want your readers to learn?
Summarize what has been published. Be somewhat objective about the strengths and weaknesses of the previously published materials. Base your response on that and document your statements. Links to reliable sites will give your document credibility. Quoting the documents you are responding to will help people see the issue you are addressing.
Review it with someone who has a critical eye
As an independent provider, I suggest a further step. Discuss the article with people who can tell you how others might respond. Change whatever you need to change.
Be open to having the professional association review it!
As a professional, you have a voice. Analytical, well documented presentations on issues by practicing professionals are key to the peer review process of any publication and the growth of the profession.