Monday, August 22, 2011

Wikipedia's Native Translators

In my July 2 post, I called attention to a survey that was being done by Julie McDonough Dolmaya (see photo) of York University in Toronto. It concerns translators who participate in crowdsourcing projects. More particularly, she profiles 76 translation contributors to Wikipedia. What follows is just an extract focusing on what's of particular interest for this blog here. For the full picture, which she hasn’t finished painting yet, and for important information like her sampling method, go to her blog, which you can reach quickly via the Blogging about translation and localization link on the right of this page.

First some points about Wikipedia:
¶ A great deal of Wikipedia, especially in languages other than English, has been produced by translating. In general the translations are good as regards both content and language, indeed so good that sometimes it’s hard to tell which version of an article was the original. Even without exact figures, it’s certain that Wikipedia contains, semi-obscured, a vast corpus of technical translations, and therefore studies of those translations and of the translators who did them will be important for translation studies.
¶ All of Wikipedia has been written by crowdsourcing since before the term even came into use. (If you care to go back into history, you might also say that the first edition of the great Oxford English Dictionary a century ago and before computers existed was compiled partly by crowdsourcing, but that’s another story.)
¶ Its discourse is at a level that requires an advanced education. It lies well beyond the ‘everyday circumstances’ that’s part of the definition of the Natural Translation Hypothesis.
¶ Furthermore, each article requires expert knowledge of its subject field and of the accompanying terminology.
¶ In addition, Wikipedia users are very critical readers, as you can see from the discussions that accompany the articles. If translations are inadequate, one would expect readers to criticise them. Conversely, if they’re not criticised… In either case, it’s an aspect that calls for investigation.
¶ The language of Wikipedia writings, at any rate in the languages I can read, is formal, even academic, as befits the long tradition of encyclopaedias.
¶ Wikipedia doesn’t pay its contributors.

What then do we learn from Julie’s research?

¶ “When respondents were asked about translation-related training, most (51 respondents or 68%) responded that they had no formal training in translation.”
¶ Of the other 32%, most had taken anything from “a few courses” to a full degree or certificate at a university or college, and a small minority (about 8) replied, “I received training in translation at my workplace.” We may – with some generosity in the case of those who just “took some translation courses” – class them as Expert Translators.
¶ “52 of the 76 respondents (68.4%) had never worked as translators (i.e. they had never been paid to produce translations). Only 11 respondents (or about 14%) were currently working as translators on a full- or part-time basis, while 13 (or about 17%) had worked as translators in the past but were not doing so now.” Let’s lump them all together as Professional Translators and assume – again with some generosity, especially towards the part-timers – that they’re all Experts. Furthermore, as Wikipedia doesn’t pay for translations, it’s as Expert Translators and not as Professional Translators that they’re contributing to it.
¶ “Only two respondents were members of a professional association of translators.” Experts, of course. Probably they overlap with the set that had received formal or workplace training; but not necessarily, because some associations accept members without such training. Anyway, the number is tiny.

So what can we conclude? Subject to a few caveats which Julie mentions herself, the following. That given the nature of Wikipedia texts (which rules out Natural Translators), and Julie’s figures, over two thirds of Wikipedia translators are Advanced Native Translators.

Thank you, Julie, for a pioneering initiative.

Advanced Native Translator, Natural Translator, Expert Translator, Professional Translator: for definitions of these terms and the relationship between them, enter definitions in the Search box on the right and then select the post of November 12, 2010 from the results.

Julie McDonough Dolmaya. Wikipedia survey I (respondent profiles). Blogging about Translation and Localization, May 30, 2011.

Julie McDonough Dolmaya. Wikipedia survey II (types of participation). Blogging about translation and localization, June 12, 2011.

Image: JoSTrans


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