We had another conversation here in the office about whether Document Translators have it easier than Interpreters? Is the translation side less stressful because you’re not “live” with other people looking on. Or is it that in this day of 24-hour document translation projects, the stress level of getting it done accurately and quickly makes document translation more high stakes. We did an online search to garner opinions (or ammunition ;) and I discovered this US News and World Report article (pictured) through the American Translators Association website that says regional dialects are becoming stronger in the United States, suggesting interpretors’ jobs may be getting harder. Why this trend? It’s not entirely clear, William Labov, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told the reporter. One possibility, he says, is that “dialect differences have become associated with political differences, so that the Blue States/Red States division comes close to the boundary between the Northern and Midland dialects.”
It would be interesting to investigate whether this is true in other parts of the world where political divisions are becoming more distinct. It would also be interesting to investigate whether regional words or whole dialects are also gaining ground. That would surely represent a challenge for interpreters that would also be shared by document translation specialists.
Another consideration for why Americans are becoming increasingly accented might be the shift among immigrant communities from a more melting-pot approach to Americanizing—where they adopt the food, language and culture of whatever region they settle in—to the mosaic approach, where they add being American to whatever they already consider themselves creating more of a hybrid existence. Perhaps the increasing numbers of new accents in their communities has resulted in Americans being prouder of their own accents. As someone who has always been puzzled by accent elimination (why would you want to change something so fundamental about yourself?), it’s a trend I welcome.
According to linguistics professor Labov children first mimic the accents of their parents then that of their peers, with accents usually staying the same after age 18. I would imagine that this is true of all cultures.
But one more thought. With exploding numbers of Asians and Africans gaining entry to the global marketplace and giving their numerous dialects more prominence on the world stage, won’t both document translation and interpreting continuously become more complex, I dare say more interesting? Especially with the clock always ticking.

To stamp or not to stamp?

by desa on May 10, 2011

A bail-bond company in Colorado learned the value of a “certified translation” the hard way. According to Minnesota’s Austin Daily Herald, it seems that an audit of the company’s records by Colorado state officials revealed that the company hadn’t done certified translations of most of their documents but had apparently stamped them to appear so. This and other violations led to the company being fined $1.2 million and having its license to operated being revoked. Certified document translation costs probably seem like a real bargain now. Read the full story here.

A murder case in Oakland, CA is shedding light on the increasing importance of skilled court interpreters who can work in languages that are little known to Americans. In the case, which is being covered extensively by the San Jose Mercury News, two Eritrean brothers are accused of killing their in-laws in revenge for what they believed was the poisoning death of another brother. Quotes in the case attributed to Asmerom Gebreselassie, who prosecutors charge (with the help of his brother) shot his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, indicate that the defendant doesn’t have the best grasp of conversational American English. In incriminating statements to police about his sister-in-law and her family the defendant said: “She is evil, man… Let me tell you that much.” He told the court his claim that the killings were self-defense because the family had lured him to their apartment in order for them kill him are “110 percent the truth.” In fact the defendant himself seemed to recognize the language limitations, and asked for an interpreter when he took the stand earlier this month, saying: “People have been misled because the truth has been hidden from them. I would like them to know the truth entirely. This case is about our society, about things that are acceptable and not acceptable, things that are disgusting.”

However, the trial ended up having to be suspended after the defendant’s morning testimony because the interpreter wasn’t doing a good job. According to the Mercury News, “The translator used during the morning session appeared to have difficulties translating statements made by Gebreselassie…the translator was not repeating Gebreselassie’s answers verbatim but instead summing up his answers.” So, at the defendant’s lawyer’s request, the trial was postponed until a capable interpreter could be found. Another interesting point: the reporter on that story repeatedly used the term “translator” when what he was actually referring to was the work of an interpreter. I’m not sure what native language the defendant speaks but Tigrinya and Arabic are predominant in Eritrea. It is arguably easier to find an Arabic interpreter in California than it is to find one that speaks fluent Tigrinya.

What’s the result when multicultural cities fail to recognize the need for multicultural communication? In the case of a suburb of Melbourne, Australia it meant a flood of parking fines and a wave of angry residents. Authorities in Fitzroy held a town-hall style meeting to announce the changes around parking permits, employing interpreters to communicate in seven different languages. However, when it came to document translation they let the ball drop, mailing English-only explanations about the changes to residents. The result was that many people didn’t get the message thus the anger-inducing increase in ticketing.

This kind of thing is surely happening in many communities that haven’t fully realized just how diverse they have become.

Trading in Errors?

by desa on April 5, 2011

If there is any doubt about just how much inaccurate document translations can derail business deals, consider the delays in the Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the European Union. The agreement was signed by the two sides in October 2010 and approved by the EU in mid-February. It seemed set for easy approval in the Korea parliament but has been repeatedly delayed because of translation problems, reportedly more than 200 errors to date.

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Luckily for human translators the continuing problems with accurate machine-generated document translation mean that the technology continues to be considered “infantile” or “burgeoning” all of which means our jobs are safe for now. That’s not to say that there aren’t some fascinating developments.

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