The Orwellian Redefinition of Translation Quality

A prominent strain of enthusiasm for wikis, long tails, hive minds, and so on incorporates the presumption that one profession after another will be demonetized. Digitally connected mobs will perform more and more services in a collective volunteer basis, from medicine to solving crimes, until all jobs are done that way.

–Jaron Lanier, You Are not a Gadget

Imagine a Walmart sales representative crashing a convention of bespoke jewelers with a PowerPoint presentation entitled: “Cubic Zirconia: The New ‘In’ Thing in Luxury.” The befuddled jewelers might object that the presentation may be very interesting, but is rather misplaced. This is not the right arena for the PPT presentation. They might even complain that the PPT claims a cubic zirconia is just as good as a real diamond. Nay, even better. Yes, they might raise a ruckus about that. And if the Walmart rep claimed that they should lower their prices by 500%, try to sell ten times as many fake diamonds and get rich on a razor thin profit margin, I think those jewelers would eventually kick the Walmart gentleman out on his hind quarters. I imagine that, if interrogated, these small businessmen would inform you that letting Walmart into their convention, making it a member and letting it promote itself as a member of the Bespoke Jewelers Association would sort of cheapen their collective brand identity.

You see, the reason we value a diamond more than a cubic zirconium may be irrational, but the difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconium is very real. We can’t explain the difference between “Dogs Playing Poker” and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, but it is very, very real. Likewise, the difference between a well-written, accurate translation and the thousand-word-per-hour droppings of our average bilingual hamster is also very real. Such a gap is perhaps hard to explain to an alien (or a computer scientist), but eminently marketable.

To claim there is no gap is a very serious (and deeply fallacious) contention. One that undercuts the quality thesis, which, I have come to realize, is increasingly the only way for individual freelancers and medium-sized agencies to carve out a future. What does the profession really gain from being accommodating with the McLSPs that provide lower quality? Nothing, especially when they are trying to eat our lunch and proletarianize the profession by relativizing the notion of quality.

Miguel Llorens

Illustrated by Juan Manuel Tavella