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Translation Evolution – Middle Ages

images As outlined earlier in the previous post “Translation Evolution - Early Beginnings", The translation business developed commercially to an extent that it grown to be known as “the translation business” during the last 10K years. Milestones that were achieved included translation of the Bible by St. Jerome and invention of movable printing plates by Johannes Guttenberg in 1465. By the twentieth century, translation had boomed into an important business all hail to technical means of communication being invented. Information needed to be translated to be passed on to generation which created the need of typewriters, copier, telephone and fax. The strongest reason of translation becoming as important as it was and completely commercial was because only because of translation necessary information became accessible for all kinds of purposes. These included from generals deploy plans to attack and invade a foreign country, to doctors who needed information to find cures or make new and effective medications, and inventors who were hungry for information about upgraded design of the latest machinery or equipment. Now, this also gave rise to another aspect to the translation business. Business minded people, turned into translation brokers commonly known as translation agencies, because they had figured out the monetary value of the documents they were to translate. In exchange of simple translations they were gaining valuable information which was resell-able for a higher price to direct clients. These business minded people or entrepreneurs as we would refer to them today, made a living from small translations produced by other translators were mostly monolingual. By mid-twenties, translating companies were on a rise owned and started by translating entrepreneurs. These companies translated for direct clients and sometimes other translators; especially several German translator, Japanese translator, French translator or Czech translator etc. Translators today have to work in particular regulations and under supervision of Project Managers who understand the languages that they are supposed to parcel out to their widespread network of translators; also major in only a specific translation field either because the activities that they work for to be able to convey accurate translation “in every field from and into every language”. In the last century project managers were not able to tell a good translation from a mediocre or bad translation majorly because they were not native speakers. Project managers during the Middle Ages did not have industry specific experience because of the obvious distance limitations which is why they were not able to produce technically accurate translation. That is when it was realized to hire project managers with industry-specific experience who are native speakers of language to be translated in. Since then they started hiring project managers who not only knew something about the product they were selling, i.e. foreign languages, they also provided a useful barrier between a direct client and the translator, a human buffer who often got thrashed from both sides as the agency tried to serve both sides as best as possible. During these times translators were able to exchange jokes with owners or translators who were running translation agencies about things that only translators would understand. Rapports that were established among these translators and the people who were running translation agencies, usually owners of a small business, would sometime last for decades resulting in the benefit of both the agency and the translator. The translators hinge on the agencies for a continuous supply of reasonably well-paid work, whereas the agencies in turn were able to depend on the translators to produce translations that were likely to please even the most challenging customers. It was a good deal as far as division of labor is concerned because each of the two parties was able to focus on their expertise. Prior to the advent of the corporate style of translation agencies that are driven mostly by maximization of profit, maximum profit was not the only thing that was important – there were other also important considerations, and maintaining a good relationship with the best translators was a condition if the agency wanted to be able to compete in a market that was based both on price and on quality. Companies competed mostly based on the quality of the translation instead of contending mostly on price, hence translators were forced to provide discounts for “repeat words and fuzzy matches”. At the end of the twentieth century, change was in the air, for better for some and for worse for others. Many changes would be slowly brought about by the emergence of Internet in many industries as a force that gives a new lease on life, or kills, including in the “translation industry”. Some flourishing industries would be intensely changed by it (e.g. music industry, book industry, movie theaters, newspapers), and some well-established and highly profitable businesses would go bankrupt if they ignored changes inevitable due to Internet long enough (for example the tape and DVD renting business exemplified by the bankruptcy of Blockbuster a few years ago). These changes would have a major influence also on the somewhat young translation industry or “the translation business” in the twenty first century, which will be the subject of my next and last post in this series.

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