Monday, November 4, 2013

Recent Articles from The Linguist

Miranda Moore

This blog has several times recommended and quoted from The Linguist, the bi-monthly magazine of the UK Chartered Institute of Linguists. Under its vivacious and highly competent editor, Miranda Moore, who often does her own fieldwork and has a keen eye for graphics, it contains many articles that are of interest for us here. The latest issue, October-November 2013, is no exception. And now that there’s an electronic edition (see References), it’s easily accessible.

A recent article I particularly enjoyed was ‘Let’s get physical’ by Rekha Narula, in which she looks at the challenging physical environment for interpreters working like her in the UK health service. It’s true to life. But Rekha is a Professional Expert, and so further discussion of her modus operandi would be beyond the scope of this blog.

Nataly Kelly too is a Professional Expert, but her article (see References) does fall within our scope because it’s about a hot topic in non-professional translation, crowdsourcing, and most crowdsourcing contributors are Advanced Native Translators but not qualified Experts. (For more about it on this blog, enter crowdsourcing in the Search box on the right.) Part of the article is given over to persuading the Professional Experts that community translation (as she calls it) isn’t a threat to them: “Community translation: friend, foe or no big deal.” But what interests me most are the measures she describes for checking and revising the contributions. Translation crowdsourcing has already developed beyond ‘anything goes’.
“The freelance [professional] translator community became enraged when, in 2007, Facebook began using members of its community to translate its platform into other languages. The complaints primarily consisted of exclamations such as… ‘They can’t ensure quality if they use the unwashed masses.’… Facebook came up with its own [software] solution, [a free app] which allowed its huge community to cast votes for the best translations. [If you want a glimpse of the Facebook app, click here.]
"This enabled the company to ensure that a single translator was not deciding how millions of people would say ‘write on your wall’ in their native language. Instead, the community of users had a say in how they wanted to see phrases translated… the majority decides which translation it likes best... The sheer number of volunteers is a safeguard to quality but smaller communities can struggle to find sufficient numbers, and that can mean that the translation is never launched… Many community managers will not trust a translation if it hasn’t been reviewed by several volunteers.”

A noteworthy implication of this procedure is that, for better or worse, not only the translating but also the assessment of the translations is done by non-Experts. It becomes communal, distributed and democratised.  But even if the translators are not Expert Translators, they may well be subject-matter savvy and they have a passion for language.  The same can be said of the Wikipedia translators whom Julie McDonough has been studying (enter mcdonough in the Search box), though they make their revisions without special software.

 The third article that struck my attention did so because it adds first-hand information to a topic that has already appeared several times on this blog, namely church interpreters in Africa. It’s by Jill Karlik of Leeds University, who studied them in The Gambia. In a post a long time ago, I told how impressed I was by the dramatic manner  of a church interpreter in Cameroon (enter buea in the Search box).  So it struck a chord when I read the following:

“Some of the younger generation…  gain recognition as competent interpreters within the frame of church events. I found they meet end-user expectations by a highly communicative and lively manner…  It occurred to me that their skills deserved wider recognition.”

Most important, though, are her comments on the development that they have been through.

“In this multilingual milieu, all the interpreters in my study had grown up interpreting since childhood, serving the function of ‘community interpreters’. I observed children as young as three [my emphasis] acting as interpreters for visiting cousins.”

In the centennial year of the publication of Ronjat’s Le développpement du langage chez un enfant bilingue (enter ronjat in the Search box), it’s good to have this empirical confirmation of the young age at which bilingual children can start to translate communicatively.

Finally, along this line of thinking, she raises a question that deserves discussion and action:

“…whether there might be some way of helping young ‘natural’ interpreters benefit from appropriate training at an early age, at a time when they are most receptive to developing their cognitive skills.”

The Linguist. Edited by Miranda Moore. London: Chartered Institute of Linguists, bi-monthly. The paper edition is available from the CIoL ( at GBP 41 a year plus postage. The electronic edition is free here, but the references below are to the print edition.

Rekha Narula. Let’s get physical. The Linguist, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 12-13, 2013.

Nataly Kelly. Power of the crowd. The Linguist, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 14-15, 2013

Jill Karlik. A Christian Interpretation. The Linguist, vol. 52, no. 5, pp. 18-19, 2013.





  1. For your information, Jill Karlik and I are co-hosting a panel at the conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translating", at the University of Mainz in Germersheim, Germany, May 29-31 2014. We have twin panels, one on "Interpreting in Churches - people, practice, performance", to be chaired by Jonathan Downie, is well subscribed. The other (ours) is on "Oral and signed presentation of Scripture - contexts, practices, product", dealing primarily with the rendering of Scripture by interpreters and mother-tongue preachers. Please let us know as soon as you can if you would be interested in submitting on any aspect of this controversial topic.

    If you are interested in presenting and are able to respond quickly, email: and/or

    Formal submission of papers is 10th November.

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