Re: Professionalism

Subject: Re: Professionalism
From: Robert Bononno <bononno -at- ACF2 -dot- NYU -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1993 22:04:34 -0400

On Fri, 25 Jun 1993, S.North wrote:

> Technical authorship and its problems is the tip of the iceberg really. The
> situation is very similar for professional translators (if not worse).
> Sometimes it seems that every English expatriate living in Continental Europe
> has a part-time job as a translator. Alright, the standards are not high but
> who cares - they undercut professional prices by about 500%. Can we drive them
> out? - impossible! All we can do is set high standards and advertise.

To a technical translator this thread (and Mr. North's item in
particular) sound a familiar note. The issue of professionalism
and certification has been bantered back and forth within the
translation community for several years now--without much sign of
resolution in sight. Mr. North's comment about English
expatriates in Europe is certainly well taken. Without wishing to
sound xenophobic, the same comment might be made about East
European/Asian/South American/etc. immigrants in the US, who work
at cut-rate prices and generally drive rates down.

The real issue is _not_ immigrants or expatriates, however. In
translation almost anyone with a knowledge of two languages
considers themselves a translator--regardless of their depth of
knowledge or previous training. As a teacher this is immediately
obvious among my students. Many come into the program with
nothing more than a BA in French, not realizing that translation
is a specialized form of activity (like technical writing) and
requires specialized skills. If you are involved in technical
translation, a background in the sciences makes a lot of sense.
And it certainly doesn't hurt if you know how to write.

The ATA (American Translators Association) does provide an
accreditation exam in specific language combinations. But its
validity has been questioned on several occasions both by those
who have taken the exam and those who haven't. I admit it's not
that rigorous, but it does provide some sort of baseline.

To continue the comparison with tech writing, there are currently
several postgrad programs in translation studies, at least one of
which offers an MA. These are all fairly new programs here in the
States, however, and there is much reluctance within the
translation community to regard them as legitimate. Personally
(and as a graduate of one such program) I feel they are valid,
even if they are not as well established as similar programs in
Canada and Europe. Translation is a _necessity_ in Canada
(mandated by law) and Europe, and part of a long tradition (as
old as humankind, in one sense). Translators in those countries
are considered professionals because they are _needed_. That is
part of the problem: doctors, lawyers, and accountants, etc. are
considered professionals here because their activities are
essential aspects of contemporary social life. How many of us run
to the local translator (or technical writer) to get a manual
translated? The high status professions have also created their
own myth, their own priesthood. For all intents and purposes,
they are the only game in town. Which--to return to my opening
remarks--is clearly not the case with translation.

The translation community has talked about federal certification,
licensing, etc., etc. They use the model of the current federal
exams for court interpreters. The question always is: who is
going to devise the tests, who is going to grade us, who, in
fact, _are_ the experts? (The response is always the same: We
are!) If it weren't for the matter of unfair competition, of
translation agencies hiring students for translation and
interpreting work and paying them peanuts, and the common
misunderstanding of the nature and difficulty of the profession,
it wouldn't much matter to me. I've practiced translation for a
number of years, I've got my degrees, I try to hone my skills at
every available opportunity, and I do the best job I can in my
own work. In my opinion (and in the opinion of some of my clients
and colleagues) I'm a professional.

Many of the other issues raised by Mr. North, especially in his
quotes, are also quite valid: the existence of professional
journals and peer review, the need for some form of self
regulation, the presence of codes of ethical conduct, etc. What's
specifically missing in translation (and this is immediately
apparent in translation pedagogy) is a systematized body of
knowledge and a way of transmitting that knowledge. Even in the
small program in which I teach, there's no end of debate about
what should be taught and how it should be done. Even the basics
have yet to be defined. Also, translators rarely have the
opportunity to work under the guidance of seasoned professionals-
-there's very little opportunity for internship.

Robert Bononno
bononno -at- acf2 -dot- nyu -dot- edu

"The spending of the best part of one's life earning money in
order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable
part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to
make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England
and live the life of a poet." Thoreau

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