Sunday, July 28, 2013

Taking Stock

Some other work I’m engaged on has obliged me to step back and look at how this blog is doing. Here’s what I’ve found.

It began sporadically in February 2009, and has been published regularly at approximately weekly intervals since July of that year. At the time of this writing, it contains 282 posts. At a conservative estimate the posts average 700 words in length, which would make a total of nearly 200,000 words or 750 printed pages or 35 typical journal articles. Much of this, it’s true, is made up of quotations from other documents; nevertheless the blog constitutes a substantial source of original information. All the original material has been written by one sole author, me. References for the quoted material are given at the end of each post, and direct hyperlinks have been provided since 2011 from most of the references to the full original sources. Almost all the posts are accompanied by an appropriate image.

The blog is hosted on Google’s Blogger platform (, which has proven to be a sufficiently robust and user-friendly application for the purpose. Blogger is physically located in the Google ‘cloud’, which makes it possible to compose, manage and archive the blog, despite its size, from a small, inexpensive ‘netbook’ computer, an Asus Eee PC 1005HA. (Despite its minuteness and low price, it’s the best laptop I’ve owned in 30 years.)

The declared topics are Natural Translation, Native Translation and Language Brokering. These terms, along with the complementary terms Expert Translation and Professional Translation, are defined in posts within the blog itself. While most of the posts remain focused on the declared topics, there are many, perhaps a quarter, which are not, though they have some connection with translating. Examples of the latter are the posts on fictional translators (e.g. Mr Melas in Conan Doyle’s 'The Greek Interpreter') and the annual ‘Christmas Diversions’, which trace the migration of familiar stories from their first translations into English to their popular cultural adaptations on the British stage (Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker).

The blog format was decided on for both personal and professional reasons. There's a literature now about the pros and cons of blog publication from an academic viewpoint. To find it, google blog scientific publication. Some of the criticism of conventional publication can be found on what is itself a blog, The Future of Scientific Publication (see References). The main disadvantages of conventional publication are:
  • The paucity of specialized reviewers who are competent in the designated areas of research. Of the many experts on translation theory, for example, few know anything about translation by children.
  • The time taken by the review and publication process, typically one to two years from submission of a paper or presentation at a conference to its appearance in print. A blogger, on the contrary, can publish a post as soon as it’s ready for reading: wake up with a bright idea in the morning, make it known to the world for evaluation and suggestions by evening.
Time is crucial for the present author, who has reached an advanced age at which his survival for another two years is statistically somewhat doubtful even in Spain, whose population enjoys exceptional longevity. In addition, he’s long since passed the stage at which he needs to further his career by publications that will be credited by university or fund-granting committees. He’s therefore completely free to choose how to publish.

In any case, the ‘learned’ publications are addressed to very elite, restricted readerships, and indeed many of them, including doctoral dissertations, are little read at all. They may be expensive to acquire. Whereas blogs are open, free, and usually written in an easily understood style. In short, insofar as they are science they are popular science. This is important for translatology, because the widespread complaint that the general public does not appreciate translating and translators at their true worth is partly due to the lack of suitable writings. (An exception that breaks the academic mould is the recent book Found in Translation by Kelly and Zetzsche.)

On the other hand, let’s admit that blog publication has serious drawbacks. The worst is that blogs are not taken seriously by the academic community, which is still stuck in an earlier model.
The essential drawbacks of the current system of scientific publishing are all connected to the particular way that peer review is used to evaluate papers. In particular, the current system suffers from a lack of quality and transparency of the peer review process, a lack of availability of evaluative information about papers to the public, and excessive costs incurred by a system, in which private publishers are the administrators of peer review. These problems can all be addressed by open post-publication peer review (OPR). Together with open access (OA), which is generally accepted as desirable, OPR will revolutionize scientific publishing.
Another is assessing the readership. There have been over 143,000 Unprofessional Translation 'pageviews', where a 'page' is roughly equivalent to a post. It currently has 164 ‘Followers’, i.e. people who have registered as regular readers. Of course this doesn’t mean that that they all read every post. On the other hand, many of the Comments, and of the emails that the blog’s author receives directly, come from people who are not Followers. For some of the Followers, profiles are available, but it's not clear from most of the profiles whether they have a serious interest in the topics of the blog. The posts that have received the most attention from commenters are not those I would have wished. For example, the posts on the meetings between Hitler, Franco and Pétain in 1940, where the interpreters were in fact Professional Experts. The Comments also attract undesirables, particularly the people who use them as a pretext for advertising their own translation services.

Finally, there is the internal organization of this particular blog and of blogs in general. The order of the posts is strictly chronological. This makes it complicated to locate and follow threads about a particular topic. Users cannot be expected to trace them themselves through the 280 posts. Fortunately there are some aids built into Blogger. Labels and tags can be added to posts and posts can be grouped by them. There is also the Search box on the right-hand side of each page, which enables more specific searching by keywords. Nonetheless, those search tools throw the onus back on readers to assemble the posts meaningfully themselves, and for that they need quite expert knowledge of the tags and keywords used.

The work I’m doing is intended to put better order into some of the posts.

  • Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World. Foreword by David Crystal. New York: Penguin-Perigree, 2012. There was a review of it on this blog: enter zetzsche in the Search box.
  • Nikolaus Kriegeskorte. An emerging consensus for open evaluation: 18 visions for the future of scientific publishing. The Future of Scientific Publication: ideas for an open, transparent, independent system, October 29, 2012. The post is here.
Source: Mr. P's Teacher Blog


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