This book examines in detail traditional status signals in the translation profession. It provides case studies of eight European and non-European countries, identifying a number of policy options and making recommendations on rectifying problem areas.
About the Author
"Anthony Pym is professor of translation and intercultural studies and coordinator of the Intercultural Studies Group at the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain.
François Grin is professor of economics at the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Geneva.
Claudio Sfreddo has a PhD in political economy and a diploma in economics and finance from the University of Geneva, as well as a bachelor’s in business management from the University of Lausanne.
Andy L. J. Chan has a PhD in translation and intercultural studies from the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain as well as a master’s in economics from the University of Virginia, USA.
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The Status of the Translation Profession in the European Union
By Anthony Pym, François Grin, Claudio Sfreddo, Andy L. J. Chan
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2013 European Union
All rights reserved.
1.1. What Do We Mean by Status?
The signalling of qualifications can be seen in the following recent developments, cited here as mere examples:
– The Global Translation Institute is managed by Adriana Tassini from an office in Portland, Oregon (although it seems not to be registered with the Portland Revenue Bureau, which does not list it at the address given). It sponsors a Certified Translation Professional (CTP) Designation Program, managed by Adriana Tassini with a telephone number in Massachusetts. It links to free information on the translation industry and how to become a translator, all of which comprises some 40 short online articles by Adriana Tassini. Adriana Tassini describes herself as a "Harvard University Alumni Member with a background in international relations and translation work in São Paulo, Brazil and Boston, Massachusetts (USA)". She names no completed degrees. Her declared training team comprises 12 people, none of them with any formal training in translation. To become a Certified Translation Professional, you pay US$227 per language pair, study the learning materials (none of which is language-specific) and sit the online exam. It is not clear to what extent the exam tests language skills, but the programme offers certification in 22 language pairs, of which the training faculty are presented as being experts in five.
– The International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters was founded in Buenos Aires in 2009. It accepts members who 1) have a degree or diploma from "a recognized institution", or 2) have at least four years' experience as a translator or interpreter. No list of "recognized institutions" is offered. You can become a member for US$60 a year, which entitles you to use the association's logo and an email address with the association's domain, and benefit from discounts on industry publications, and inclusion in the association's online directory. The association lists its "Honorary members" as including Noam Chomsky, who has no professional training in translation but nevertheless retains considerable academic standing.
Such cases indicate how status can be given to translators. It seems that virtually anyone can pay US$227 to gain certification as a Translation Professional. A practising translator with four years' experience can become a member of the International Association and gain the other trappings of status: a logo, a professional email address, a public listing, and some apparent academic backing. Of course, you may not be able to translate very well, but neither of these organisations appears to be testing that.
Status, as seen in these examples, is not competence, expertise, the ability to render a service, the exercise of visibility or power, or a question of fair recompense. Status is here taken to be the set of social signals that create, first, the presumption of some kind of expertise, and second, the presumed value of that expertise. In an ideal world, we would be able to test the objective expertise of all translators, then rank and reward them accordingly. In the world we live in, however, most employers and users of translations have to rely on the various signals of status. They do so individually, when assessing the value of a particular translator, and also socially, when making assumptions about the relative value of translators as a professional group.
From the perspective of the individual translator, status is something that must be acquired, in addition to actual translation skills. You should be able to translate, but you also need some way of signalling your skills to your clients or employers. In this sense, a degree or a certification becomes a commodity, something that can be bought, something that you need in order to set up shop as a professional translator. It should perhaps not be surprising to find "Certification" listed alongside Computer Aided Translation tools and a Database of Agencies as one of the things a translator might want to purchase online (Figure 1).
From the collective perspective, status concerns the various signals that rank a social group or profession with respect to others. This concerns several related kinds of value, beyond questions of objective competence or expertise:
– Trustworthiness: Since translating always concerns communication with another culture, and thus with people we do not know so well, the translators themselves are always open to mistrust: since they presumably speak the language of the other side, and they purport to know the culture of the other side, they could always be working in the interests of the other side. This millennial problem is partly handled by claims to fidelity or its technocratic surrogate equivalence: translators will always signal their loyalty to the cause of their client. In particularly closed cultures, trustworthiness is only properly signalled by the translator being born into one social group rather than the other, or even by the translator belonging to a family of hereditary professional translators (as in the case of the Oranda tsuji in Japan). In constitutionally regulated societies, translators may come from external or hybrid positions but might require authorisation by educational or judicial institutions. The translator's trustworthiness is thus ultimately signalled not by their birth, nor by their claims to neutral expertise, but by their having been accepted by state institutions.
– Professional exclusion: If some translators are to be trusted, then there must be others who are somehow less trustworthy. A profession is partly a discourse of concepts and values that signal precisely this exclusion: some translators are to be considered "professional", and others are not. This exclusion is particularly problematic in the field of translation because, as we have seen, virtually anyone can purchase the signals of a certain professional status. At the same time, there is a growing practice of volunteer translation, where people translate for fun or for "the good of the cause", without financial reward. The study of status must thus account for cases where some translators are accepted and others are excluded or are regarded as having status of a different kind. The mechanisms of this exclusion include professional examinations, certification systems, and membership of professional associations and societies.
– Rates of pay: In some societies, high social status normally correlates with high rates of pay for services rendered. A survey of pay scales must thus be an essential part of any survey of status. In this case, however, we seek to go beyond relative pay scales. This is partly because reliable information is hard to come by (see 5.1 below). But it is also because the financial economy is not always the one that counts most. For example, we know that literary translators are paid at below the minimum wage in most countries in Europe (Fock et al. 2008), yet many very intelligent and gifted people continue to translate literature. In many cases, the reason is that the activity brings them status in neighbouring fields, often as academics, in publishing institutions or as writers of literature. In other cases, literary translation ranks with the volunteer translating by activists, done for the "good of the cause". The status in such cases is cultural, symbolic and social, rather than strictly financial. But it is a socially valuable status nevertheless.
– Recognition and prestige: A general signal of status is the appearance of the translation profession in official documents like listings of economic activities, census records, and taxation systems. These constitute signals of recognised identity, not necessarily of prestige and rates of pay. Such recognition is the first step towards prestige, and the relative rankings can make a difference. For example, the category "Secretarial and translation activities" is reported as appearing in the "General Industrial Classification of Economic Activities within the European Communities" (2008), whereas the current version lists "Translation and Interpretation" as a category in its own right. This difference is seen as an improvement, not because it brings anyone more money, but because the recognition is more exclusive and official.
– Authority: When status is signalled, much depends on who has the authority to send the signal. Translators themselves generally do not have that authority, even when operating collectively in associations and the like. Individual or collective authority may be accrued from experience or longevity (if a translator or association has existed for a long time, they have presumably been able to earn trust on the market) and possibly from size (if there are many translators in an organisation, it might be a strong organisation). Alternatively, it can come from integration into state structures (which in turn offer both longevity and a certain size), as when translators are certified by legal institutions or various government ministries. This authorisation has the benefit of ensuring that trustworthiness is more on one side than the other – the translators are presumed to work in the interests of the instance that is authorising them. Increasingly, though, authorisation comes from educational institutions, which may be private or state. We thus recognise three broad sources of authority: experience (presumed to be survival on the market), state authorisation, and academic qualifications. The study of status must track the ways these three interact.
If we now return to the "Global Translation Institute" and the Argentine "International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters", we see that both work as remarkably efficient signallers of status. We have no evidence that the translators benefiting from these signals are in any way incompetent. However, it is not hard to see why the signals might not be wholly convincing. Neither organisation has more than three years of experience, so they have had little time to build up their own trustworthiness or prestige. Neither has any link to state structures, leaving them in an area where self-proclaimed "global" or "international" status might not carry much weight. In the absence of other authorities, both are thus forced to rely on academic qualifications of some kind: one makes a point of being a Harvard alumna (but lists no completed degree) and has a string of Internet publications, and the other accepts members on the basis of a degree or diploma from "a recognized institution" (naming no criteria for recognition) and lists leading academics as honorary members. In short, their main source of authority is a set of vague appeals to educational institutions and to the suggestion of academic status.
Of course, these two start-up signallers are tilting at significant alternative sources of authority. The "Global Translation Institute" is selling something that is also offered (much more expensively) by training programmes in about 300 university-level institutions worldwide, some with more than 50 years of experience, whereas the Argentine international association is proposing an alternative to the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs, which was founded in 1954 by a French ministerial order, represents more than 100 professional associations (many with state status) and claims to speak for 88,103 translators. In fact, in 2010 three of the founding members of the Argentine international organisation were expelled from the Argentine Association of Translators and Interpreters, ostensibly for founding an association with competing aims.
The traditional granters of status are thus being challenged by new, parallel modes of signalling, and some of the traditional systems are responding to the challenge.
1.2. What Do We Mean by "Signalling" and "Asymmetric Information"?
The various signals of status will be modelled here in terms of sociology, information economics, education economics, and labour economics.
"Asymmetric information" describes the situation in which one party (the principal) has more or better information than the other (the agent). This concept was first applied to the labour and education markets (Spence 1973). In a job market, firms usually know less than workers do about workers' innate productivity. Some workers may wish to signal their ability to potential employers, and do so by choosing a level of education that distinguishes them from workers with lower productivity. Therefore, education is sometimes considered a "signal".
The concepts of "asymmetric information" and "signalling" can be applied to the translation market. Due to regionalisation and globalisation, an increasing number of clients need translation services. However, because of asymmetric information, translation service buyers cannot effectively determine the quality of a translator. This means that some good translators may not be paid what they deserve. When this happens, good translators will logically leave the translation market and take up other forms of academic activity, in a process known as "adverse selection". That may be what is happening in the translation market, particularly in segments where the signalling mechanisms are weak or outdated.
As discussed above, there are a number of signalling mechanisms in the translation market. They may concern the value of a translation, a company, an educational institution or an association. Here, though, our main focus will be on signals that represent the value of translators.
1.3. What Do We Mean by "Certification", "Accreditation", and "Authorisation"?
The many different kinds of signalling mechanisms go by many different names. Here we will adopt the terms established in this field by Jiri Stejskal, who carried out a series of studies on translator certification from 2001 to 2005.
For Stejskal (2003h), the general field of professional signals is known as "credentialing". Within this field, Stejskal distinguishes between the following (working from Knapp and Knapp 2002):
– Certification: A voluntary process by which an organisation grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualification standards.
– Accreditation: A process by which an entity grants public recognition to an organisation such as a school, institute, college, programme, facility, or company that has met predetermined standards.
– Registration: A process by which the possession of specific credentials relevant to performing tasks and responsibilities within a given field is verified.
– Licensure: A mandatory credentialing process by which a government agency grants permission to persons to engage in a given occupation or profession by attesting that those licenced have attained the minimum degree of knowledge and skills required.
Here we are thus mostly concerned with certification and only occasionally with accreditation. As for "registration" and "licensure", the only field in which they concern our study is that of sworn translators. Here we shall also use two further terms:
– Authorisation: A mode of certification that grants not just recognition but also the power to act on behalf of the certifying institution. Translators who are "sworn" in the sense that they can say a translation is legally valid have thus been "authorised" to say this by a government agency.
– Revalidation: The procedure by which authorisation (or licensure) is reaffirmed after a given period, usually by a process of "registration" (in the sense given above).
These concepts are discussed further in 2.3.1 below.
1.4. Data-Gathering Methodology
Because of the ideological nature of status, which concerns beliefs more than objective skills, most of our methodology is more qualitative than quantitative. The main research methods used in this study are as follows:
– Literature review: Many of the data on status are available in surveys conducted in recent years. Our work has been to make those data speak to each other in such a way that they answer our questions about status.
– Initial questionnaire: In October 2011 a short initial questionnaire was sent to all European translator associations affiliated with the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs, as well as to translators and/or translation scholars in the countries covered by the project (most of whom are members of the European Society for Translation Studies). The questionnaire was designed to function as a first contact only: it covers basic information on the status of government translators, sworn/authorised translators and translator associations. The questionnaire also has three "opinion" questions designed to help us position the informant with respect to the relative values of experience, professional associations, and academic qualifications. The responses to those questions have not been analysed in any quantitative way.
Excerpted from The Status of the Translation Profession in the European Union by Anthony Pym, François Grin, Claudio Sfreddo, Andy L. J. Chan. Copyright © 2013 European Union. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
GENERAL INTRODUCTION; 1. METHODOLOGICAL ISSUES 1.1. What Do We Mean by Status? 1.2. What Do We Mean by “Signalling” and “Asymmetric Information”? 1.3. What Do We Mean by “Certification”, “Accreditation”, and “Authorisation”? 1.4. Data-Gathering Methodology; 2. RESULTS 2.1. What is the Status of Translators in Official Categorisations? 2.2. What is the Relative Status of Educational Qualifications and Training? 2.3. The Status of Translators of Official Documents 2.4. The Role of Translator Associations; 3. CASE STUDIES 3.1. Germany 3.2. Romania 3.3. Slovenia 3.4. United Kingdom 3.5. Spain 3.6. United States 3.7. Canada 3.8. Australia; 4. SOCIOLOGICAL MODELLING 4.1. Models of Professionalisation 4.2. The Changing Role of Translator Associations 4.3. A Majority of Women – So What? 4.4. A Profession of Part-Timers and Freelancers? 4.5. The Role of Employer Groups 4.6. Comparison between Translators and Computer Engineers as Emerging Professions; 5. ECONOMIC MODELLING 5.1. Information on Rates of Pay 5.2. Estimations of Earning Equations 5.3. Asymmetric Information, Signalling, and Equilibrium on the Market for Translations; 6. POLICY OPTIONS FOR ENHANCED SIGNALLING 6.1. Free Market or Controlled Entry? 6.2. One Signal or Many? 6.3. Signalling as a Commodity or a Service? 6.4. Modes of Possible Intervention; 7. Recommendations; APPENDIX A. Translator Associations: Years of Foundation and Numbers of Members; APPENDIX B. Why There Are About 333,000 Professional Translators and Interpreters in the World; APPENDIX C. Online Translator–Client Contact Services: New Modes of Signalling Status; APPENDIX D. Types and Use of Economic Perspectives on Translation; APPENDIX E. Equilibrium on the Translation Market; NOTES; REFERENCES; ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS; NOTES ON THE RESEARCH TEAM
What People are Saying About This
“An informative and highly accessible book. Taking a global look at a profession that is as vital to the twenty-first century as it is difficult to pin down, the authors provide a wealth of data and analysis that will be of great interest to practitioners, trainers and policy makers.” Valerie Henitiuk, MacEwan University, Canada and Editor of the journal “Translation Studies”
“The translation profession now has empirical data to illustrate market conditions for soft values like status, quality and the importance of customer signalling. It is now up to the associations to convert the data into member information and draw the relevant conclusions for the future development of translation and the linguistic community.” Jeannette Ørsted, Executive Director, International Federation of Translators
“An important and timely book. A wealth of richly diversified statistical data coupled with selected case studies provides a solid basis for recommendations about the future of the translating profession.” Juliane House, Hamburg University, Germany