Are technical translators writing themselves out of existence?

A keynote paper presented at the 2009 Translator as Writer Conference at the University of Portsmouth. First published in: Ian Kemble (ed.) (2010) The Translator as Writer. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth

Technical translators have traditionally been regarded as being solely concerned with matters of specialised terminology and factual accuracy. The issue of writing skills in technical translation has tended not to receive much attention with the prevailing view that as long as what was written was clear and concise, there was nothing to worry about. But the role of the modern technical translator has evolved to such an extent that it bears little resemblance to the traditional notion of a translator. Various external factors have resulted in technical translators implementing writing strategies more commonly associated with areas such as technical writing, information design and even creative writing. This places technical translation firmly at the frontier of the accepted view of translation and it is now time to decide whether to press on into uncharted territory or whether to turn back and return to safe, familiar ground. This paper discusses how traditional distinctions between the work of translators and writers are rapidly fading and examine ways in which a translator’s writing skills play a central role in the evolution of technical translation.
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Localisation – When Language, Culture and Technology Join Forces

First published as: Byrne, Jody (2009) “Localisation – When Language, Culture and Technology Join Forces”. Language at Work, Issue #5

When you switch on your computer and type up a letter, what language do you see? What about when you visit a website or play a computer game? Does your mobile phone speak your language? Chances are that each of these technological marvels of the modern age communicates with you in your own language. For many of us, this is so commonplace and seamless that we hardly give it a moment’s thought but behind the scenes there is a whole industry dedicated to making sure that technology bridges the gap between language and culture without you even noticing.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to use a computer for whatever reason, you had to be able speak English. The alternative was a tedious process of trial-and-error using a dictionary and your powers of deduction. The reason for this is that Personal Computers were originally developed in the sunny, English-speaking climes of Silicon Valley in the USA where engineers and programmers concerned themselves with producing the next technological break-through. Back in the 1980s it never occurred to companies that there could be people in the world who did not speak English, or worse, who, even though they spoke English, actually preferred to speak their own languages. Over time, however, companies realised that in order to break into foreign markets and maximise profits, they would have to provide foreign language versions of their software rather than expect those pesky foreigners to learn English.

And so, once software was developed it was sent back to the developers who were told to “translate” it into whatever languages were required according to the company’s sales and marketing goals. Developers were less than enthusiastic about this, naturally. After all, they had done their job and now they were expected to do even more work which, strictly speaking was not their job. What’s more, because individual products, like languages, had their own peculiarities, customs and conventions, the process of translating the software was often time-consuming, incredibly complex and not always successful. One way of describing this process is to imagine baking a fruit cake and then being told afterwards to remove the raisins from it!

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Caveat Translator: Understanding the Legal Consequences of Errors in Professional Translation

Byrne, Jody (2007) Caveat Translator: Understanding the Legal Consequences of Errors in Professional Translation. Journal of Specialised Translation, 2007 (7) pp.2-24

At the very heart of translation studies is the issue of translation quality. Yet, while there are numerous methods for assessing the quality of translations, little is known about what happens when a translator produces a bad translation. This paper will show that translation error, as a whole, can have significant consequences Continue reading


Learning Technology in the Translation Classroom

First published as Byrne, Jody (2008) Learning Technology in the Translation Classroom. Proceedings of the XVIII FIT World Congress 2008 in Shanghai, China.

The Internet has touched virtually every area of human activity and it presents tremendous possibilities as well as serious challenges. Translation is one area which has experienced significant changes as a result of the Internet. These changes are manifest in terms of the demand for translation, the way translators work and in the way translation is taught. E-learning, defined by Wentling et al. (2000:5) “the acquisition and use of knowledge distributed and facilitated primarily by electronic means”, is a $23 billion industry (Driscoll 2002) which Continue reading


The Coming of Age of Technical Translation: an Introduction

Editorial first published as: Byrne, Jody (2009) The Coming of Age of Technical Translation. The Journal of Specialised Translation, Issue 11, Special Issue on Technical Translation, pp.2-5.

Scientific and technical knowledge has always been a prized commodity throughout history (Tebeaux 1997) and the communication of this information through translation has played a tremendous role in development of human civilisations and the advance of science and technology (see for instance Delisle 1995 and Montgomery 2000). Its importance is without doubt growing Continue reading