What Exactly Is a Technical Freelance Translator?

by Jost Zetzsche

I was asked some time back to write a book chapter about freelance translators and translation technology. Not surprisingly, I started by defining a “freelance translator” in this context. Here’s what I came up with:

“According to Wikipedia, a ‘freelancer’ is ‘a person who is self-employed and is not necessarily committed to a particular employer long-term. (…) The term freelancing is most common in culture and creative industries [such as] music, writing, acting, computer programming, web design, translating and illustrating, film and video production, and other forms of piece work which some cultural theorists consider as central to the cognitive-cultural economy.’

“With translators listed directly in the middle of groups identified as typical freelancers, we need to further narrow the distinction between literary and technical translators. ‘Technical translation’ is defined according to Sofer (The Global Translator’s Handbook. Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2012, 20) ‘by asking, does the subject being translated require a specialized vocabulary, or is the language non-specialized?’ A sampling of areas in which technical translators are active includes aerospace, automotive, business/finance, chemistry, civil engineering, computers, electrical/electronic engineering, environment, law, medicine, military, nautical, patents, social sciences, and telecommunications (ibid., 67f.).

“The diversity of fields for technical freelance translators is reflected in other areas of diversity as well.

“First, there is a wide array of commitment to the task of technical translation, ranging from voluntary, occasional (paid), and full-time translators. In the context of this contribution, we will consider only technical translators who make a substantial part or all of their livelihood by performing translation for one or — more typically — many clients. These clients could be translation agencies that subcontract to individual freelance translators or direct clients who hire freelance translators without a mediating actor. End clients may range from large international organizations to individuals who need to have personal documents translated.

“Second, the most natural area of diversity originates in the many different language combinations. Both source and target languages differ greatly in how they are supported by technologies. This includes

    • access to dictionaries and/or corpora
    • spell- and grammar-checking
    • input methods (including voice recognition)
    • morphology recognition
    • machine translation
    • the applicability of technologies that rely on parameters such as space-based word delimiters or fuzzy term recognition in languages with no traditional word boundaries or no inflection

“Third, there tends to be a correlation between the translated languages and the location of the translator. In turn, the location has an impact on the access to various kinds of technologies, from limitations to online resources applied by service providers or political control or simply prohibitive costs.

“And finally, the nature of each translator’s specialization also results in differing technology requirements, including potential limitations of using certain technologies that may not match security protocols or regulations or a particular high (or low) appreciation of very specific terminology with its corresponding technology requirements.

“Given all this, the following observations are by necessity generalizations about the members of this diverse community.”

Is that how you would define (professional, technical) freelance translator? I’d be eager to hear some feedback.

Reblogged (including the image) from The Tool Box Journal, Issue 18-4-286