Here we are, then. I’m Andrew Levine, a freelance translator of French texts into English, currently based in Brooklyn, New York. This has been my career since I got out of college four years ago, and I love (almost) every day of it.
Acknowledge No Frontier is my new blog. What translators ponder in working with languages is something that’s closely tied to notions of geography, open spaces, and boundaries, even though we don’t usually spend our days poring over maps (as fun as that can be) or rifling through other people’s vacation photos. That’s because most translators have to navigate a special sort of imagined geography. Instead of checking compass headings or tracing a line on a sailing chart, we often find ourselves re-examining the pre-conceptions we hold about physical objects, historical events, and everyday habits from the perspective of people who live very far away from us. There’s a lot to this job that’s purely mechanical, of course; it’s undeniable that automated machine translation, after decades of swallowing up billions of dollars in research, is finally starting to yield commercially viable products that are doing a good job of filling some particular kinds of linguistic needs. But the reasons why flesh-and-blood translators and interpreters still dominate the $15 billion annual language-services market, however, lay in the ability human minds uniquely have to think our way around the obstacles that time, space, and culture have set before us. This is definitely not what a translation project manager is thinking about when she’s trying to outsource a medical supplies agreement or videogame manual that needs to be in a special bilingual-format file by end of business Friday, but it’s the reason she’ll place her trust in a person rather than in Google Translate or some more cunning custom-designed software.
Three months from today, I’m packing up all that I need for work and leaving to visit Australia for the first time. This will mean two months in Melbourne, a place that people who seem like they know what they’re talking about call one of the best cities in the world to live in. Planning which sights to see morphed into a crash course in the history of the last fertile continent where human beings put down roots and carved out cultures. Most recently, I’ve re-read Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, probably the most globally acclaimed non-fiction telling of the brutal and glorious early years of Australia’s colonization by men and women from a kingdom that in their minds lay immeasurably far away. I’ve enlisted the help of my friend Leonard Pierce in putting together a series of posts on The Fatal Shore and why it matters in understanding Australia, especially to outsider Yanks like us. An introduction to this eight-week-long book-club will be up later this week.
In the meantime, I’m preparing for a presentation at the 52nd annual conference of the American Translator’s Association this October 29th in Boston. The topic will be what happens to freelancer productivity when voice-to-text software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking is put in the hands of translators who are used to typing on keyboards. I’m in the middle of putting this seminar together, and I’d be eager to hear from translators who use (or have tried using) Dragon or other speech-recognition tools as a way to enhance their productivity. Text entry is a decidedly “mechanical” aspect of the translation profession, and not the sort of thing I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about on this blog, though there will be updates on the progress of the talk.
The title Acknowledge No Frontier comes from a song, “Six Months in a Leaky Boat,” which was a hit in New Zealand in 1982 for local boys The Split Enz. (Yes, I’m visiting there too.) Enjoy the Ted Leo cover.