Post-editing: a niche for translators. What a glorious truth!

On the basis of indisputable arguments, let us aspire to achieve the same levels of social recognition for our profession as other professions have achieved, a recognition that comes, of course, in the form of pecuniary recognition.

So are we doing a good job at getting recognition for what we want? Not always.

For several years now, technology has begun to be used, to the benefit of five rascals and the detriment of hundreds of thousands of translators. I personally question translation memories turning into yet an(other) opportunity for those same old five rascals. Translation memories are another work tool and should serve to improve our work (standardizing terminology, gaining time to correct our own work or having more time for us to dedicate to other translations or… to go to the spa!). They should be our asset, like voice recognition software, like those new dictionaries we have, like that new thing we learned at the last workshop we attended. However, we have ceded our place to the people making money off those notorious, unacceptable discounts. What a coincidence…. The people applying those discounts are the same ones paying miserable rates. So they start at a rate under three cents and end up (after applying the discounts) with rates lower than 1 cent. Nauseating.

Some people say it’s already too late to try to change that reality, but we can’t help asking ourselves how we could have let something that should have benefited us turn into yet another way for a few people to get rich. Of course the other party is fine with this, but why shouldn’t we be complaining, talking, objecting? It is obvious to me that it’s a great business, but it isn’t my business, it isn’t your business, friend. It isn’t the business of those of us on this side of the profession.  And don’t anybody try to say that I am thinking anti-technology! Please! I’m glad to have technology! The case is that there should be a more equitable situation where technology benefits language professionals, and not just (in any case) the sellers of software or the same five scoundrels. But let’s leave the issue of discounts for another chat.

Nowadays, it’s the latest fashion to tell us: “post-editing is a niche for translators.” I believe it’s not too late for us to raise our voices against that idea. If I studied to translate, am I being overambitious to want to… translate?

The same voices wanting to convince us how BRILLIANT it is to work as a corrector of machines are already starting to make themselves heard at a number of conferences. Nowadays, we are witnessing the straw that will break the camel’s back, maybe along the lines of Lionbridge’s “pay to work” format: a workshop is being held to talk about post-editing, and you have to pay to attend it.

In what professions would you see something like that? Of course you would expect a software seller to want to make money. Of course you’d expect those five scoundrels to want to make money. What you shouldn’t expect is for us to bow our heads, once again, lulled by incense or back massages, at the chance to turn ourselves into machine correctors. What dentist would put his head on a platter by handing over his practice and accepting to become the office receptionist? What architect would turn his studio over to a machine while delightedly accepting the role of, let’s say, his own studio’s office boy? What lawyer would allow a machine to draw up the document to persuade a judge of John Doe’s innocence, and start chasing ambulances (in the belief, dear Lord, that it’s a new niche)?

So, now, how can some of our colleagues look through rose-colored glasses and let themselves be convinced that post-editing is the best of all possible worlds?

The same old rascals are charging their end clients the same as always, while coming up with this new way to make more money: turning us into the obligated correctors of a machine.

It is altogether too obvious that this ploy will atomize more and more translation work. That is, people post-editing a machine now will never be able to look up and try to fish for some little job with their own fishing rod, because the wide net those 5 scoundrels are casting keeps getting wider and wider.

So do we still need to state the obvious? Collective work to create a vast memory is doing the profession a lousy favor in the medium run. I’m not saying in the long run, because this massive handover of our intellectual capital (our translations) is hastening our own deaths exponentially.

Market niche. Why of course, dear colleagues. This is a niche. Settle into your coffin, cross your arms on your chest and let the last one out turn off the light.

Aurora Matilde Humarán

Translated by Yolanda Stern Broad

Illustration: Juan Manuel