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LINGUIST List 24.3046

Fri Jul 26 2013

Review: Translation: Cronin (2013)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 28-Mar-2013
From: Piero Toto <p.totolondonmet.ac.uk>
Subject: Translation in the Digital Age
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-5303.html

AUTHOR: Michael Cronin
TITLE: Translation in the Digital Age
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Piero Antonio Toto, London Metropolitan University


Cronin’s book explores the role of translation in the digital age and the role
that technology tools play in shaping translation across societies and
centuries. According to the author, tools play a central role in defining
cultures and identities: they differentiate men from animals and give them
superiority amongst all other species. The book is divided into five main
chapters, with each one dealing with one specific aspect of translation and
being further divided into subsections. Each chapter is linked to the
previous one.

Drawing on examples taken from different ages, Chapter 1 (‘The house of
translation’) introduces the 3T (trade, technology, translation) paradigm.
This is a core notion linked to the concept of how the tools that we use shape
us as much as we shape them (p. 10). This does not mean that the tools need to
be prioritized over human/social interaction, but in order to illustrate tool
dependency and this long-standing relationship between men and technology,
Cronin introduces several concepts, namely: entailment (without translation so
much else cannot happen); proximity (translation as an attempt to reduce
distances in a period of expansion, bringing audiences closer to texts); trade
(translation combined with economic need allows for the pooling of human
experience) with a particular focus on cultural contact ‘which is only
conceivable in any sustained sense through the agency of translation’ (p. 18);
control (how we perceive the past in relation to our interpretation of
history); medium (how the invention of the printing press revolutionizes
access to literary work and their translations); imagined community
(translation as propaganda and contributing to the formation of national
sentiments); and differentiation (translation which reveals the world as a
network). These notions are key to understanding the development of culture
and the human experience across time and space.

In Chapter 2 (‘Plain English’), the focus shifts towards the role of
controlled natural language (CNL) and English as lingua franca and its
financial impact. The hybridization of language, especially at the European
Union (EU) level, leads to translators acting as ‘practitioners of
dehybridization’ (Pym, 2001: 11), meaning that as source texts are being
increasingly written by non-native speakers of English, they may contain
convoluted sentences, uncommon collocations and other stylistic/linguistic
elements which need to be ‘unravelled’ in preparation for monolingual
translation. As Cronin points out ‘the greater the incidence of
English-language usage by non-native speakers, the more probable are the
translation effects in English of second-language usage [which] are in turn
captured in translation into different European languages’ (p. 41). The use of
translation memory and terminology management systems (at the EU level)
further aids the process of content automation in such a way that the
consumption of digital content in a simplified and controlled version of
English confirms the role of English as the lingua franca within the EU. This
also has implications for costs: acquiring the language for those who do not
speak it entails bearing costs which are seen mainly as devolved costs, i.e.,
transferred from the producer to the consumer. In the same way, digital
technology facilitates disintermediation, i.e., the removal of the translator
as intermediary. This can be seen especially in the use of Google Translate
and online machine translation (MT) systems in general, where the automated
process implies ‘a form of instantaneous language transfer akin to the
automated sub-routines of digital processing’ (p. 47), with the translator
acting as mere post-editor. In this scenario, technology reduces translation
to an ‘agentless, automatic function’ (p. 47). When aided by crowdsourcing
(i.e. translation done for free by users of a brand/product), the cost of
translation is also devolved and users become not just the target of the
information, but also the providers of that same information in translation.

Chapter 3 (‘Translating limits’) explores translation’s contribution to
enriching cultures and going beyond limits/frontiers. Cronin takes translation
as an example of a driving force behind globalization and presents the case of
translation smartphone apps, which offer users ‘a vision […] of a borderless
world of instantaneous language access’ (p. 71). This borderless and
standardized idea of translation is identifiable as part of an extensive
culture (Lash, in Cronin, 2013: 70) -- the ‘endless multiplication of goods,
services or ideas’ (p. 5) -- and is in contrast with translation as active
engagement with the world (e.g. the translation of Arabic poetry), which
instead requires coping ‘with the seemingly intractable differences of
languages and cultures’ (p. 73). This is an approach more readily identifiable
with an intensive culture, i.e., a culture of non-equivalence. Concepts such
as identicality and variability in translation are also discussed in this
chapter: while the former refers to the possibility of unequivocally
identifying the author of a text/product in order to repeat content exactly as
originally intended, the latter acknowledges the ‘very variable nature of
translation practice’ (p. 87), thus admitting that no one version of the same
text will be exactly the same. The relationship between these two concepts
points towards variability (or ‘nonstandard seriality’) as the predominant
model and paradigm being followed in the digital age, where content
customization is a primary source of profitability.

In Chapter 4 (‘Everyware’), Cronin highlights the ‘centrality of the labour of
translation’ (p. 91) and the ubiquitous presence of computers in our lives.
Just as during the Industrial Revolution, a predominantly ‘hand-crafted’
activity (i.e. translation) is being replaced by automated processes and
‘centralized control’, where the constant need for updated versions of the
same product requires extensive levels of automation and quick turnarounds.
What characterizes this process are two main elements: bi-directionality and
asynchronicity. Bi-directionality is the potential for dynamic communication,
conversation and feedback between consumers and producers, while
asynchronicity is the 24/7 availability of online services and offers. This
constant flow of information, combined with the ‘sense of recurrent temporal
deficit’ (p. 94) that most translators seem to go through, creates a challenge
for translators, that is, this issue of how to embed ‘chrono-diversity’ (i.e.
the different timeframes needed to accomplish differing projects) ‘in the
context of the time-space compression and near-instantaneous communication’
(p. 95) of the digital age. For companies, creating multilingual content on
their websites means dealing with high volumes of work and turnaround times,
which in turn are linked to costs. This is key in maintaining an open dialogue
with customers and users alike. However, as is especially the case with
localization companies, what content is prioritized for translation is a
matter of how profitable that content will be to the company, which may limit
access to vital information such as that related to healthcare. Different
modes of translation are also explored in this chapter, such as
wiki-translations, whose crowdsourcing efforts further highlight the role of
translators as ‘prosumers’ (i.e. both producers and consumers) and recipients
of their own work. Cronin also mentions the shift towards ‘power browsing’
from traditional, linear ways of text consumption. This has implications for
translation too, which, especially when coupled with MT, is gradually being
marketed as gist translation, or a lower-quality activity. Overall, while
localization shows a certain degree of dehumanization of processes,
crowdsourcing and its multi-purpose application involve ‘a strategic use of
technical resources to further human concerns or agendas’ (p. 103). The
chapter also includes a discussion on the notions of ethical, ostensible and
penal transparency, as identified by the author.

The last chapter (‘Details’) deals with the impact of indicative/gist
translations (as produced by MT systems) on the translation industry, and
consequently, on translators’ workflows/roles and the ‘quest’ for quality in
translation. These two aspects are, in a way, at opposite ends of a spectrum:
while gist translations are not concerned with capturing the details of a text
but rather the overall effect they create, the need for quality in
translation, particularly in post-editing, marks ‘the return of the repressed
translation detail’ (p. 128), which re-emerges through the attention to text,
language and meaning, thus reaffirming once again the central role of the
translator in the current scenario. Other concepts discussed in the last part
of this chapter are, amongst others, digital humanism (i.e. an emerging
discipline concerned with the relationship between computing and the
humanities), the demonetization of translation (i.e. how crowdsourcing and
free translation services affect translation’s status as a valuable and
profitable activity) and the ‘cult of the amateur’ (Keen, in Cronin, 2013:
136), which takes into account how difficult it can be to find high-quality,
professionally produced material on the Internet.


Overall Cronin’s latest effort is consistent with his previous work
(‘Translation and Globalization’ and ‘Translation and Identity’, in
particular): challenging, thought-provoking, accurate and multidisciplinary.
Several complementary areas of study are investigated along with translation
in order to explain concepts and notions introduced and/or further discussed
in the book. At times, the reader may feel that such investigations take over
the discussion of translation due to the numerous examples, explanations and
references provided. On one hand, this enriches the reader’s experience, but
on the other hand, it might pose a challenge for those very digital
readers/translators who are attracted by the title/topic of the book, who
might find that their reading (or ‘power browsing’, as Cronin himself calls it
in Chapter 4, albeit in reference to web reading) is slowed down by the
relative complexity and density of some of the language used and the concepts
expressed. There is also a slight propensity to discussing literary
translation over other fields, which can be attributed to the historical and
‘visceral link’ (p. 101) between the evolution of translation and literature,
which is coherently explained in the book. However, novel concepts for the
more tech-minded, such as out-of-the-ordinary localization and digital
humanism, come to the fore, especially in the final chapters. Chapter 4 is
particularly insightful in that it highlights the fundamental role of
translation technology in helping companies deal with the mass provision of
differentiated content, be it original content, updates, customer support
requests, etc. What Cronin defines as the ‘paradigm of control’ (p. 92) is the
need for companies to centralize their approach to content management in an
increasingly ‘centrifugal’ scenario, where the workload is distributed across
several translators living in different time zones and where they feel a
constant ‘sense of […] never doing enough fast enough’ (p. 94), which causes
them stress and dissatisfaction with their working conditions and their
lifestyle. This is consistent with current debates on translators’ well-being
and the need for self-care (especially for freelancers) in the workplace,
which dominate translation blogs and social networks. It is also possibly an
area which could be further explored in relation to the changing face of the
translator’s role in automated processes and how their centrality as
stakeholders in the translation process as a whole can be retained. It would
also help budding translators and seasoned scholars reflect on the
implications of the digital revolution and the role of technology in our
lives. For this reason, this volume seems particularly suitable for students
with existing knowledge and awareness of the ‘digital turn’ in translation
studies; since the intricacies of today’s fast-paced world of translation
technologies are dissected and explained against the backdrop of globalization
and current translation industry policies, they might pose a challenge for
students who are just beginning to approach this discipline and who might
therefore not be completely familiar with all facets of the translation
industry. Nevertheless, this is an extremely resourceful and useful volume
which will undoubtedly provide much-needed food-for-thought for scholars and
students alike.


Cronin, Michael. 2003. Translation and Globalization. London and New York:

Cronin, Michael. 2006. Translation and Identity. London and New York:

Pym, Anthony. 2001. Against Praise of Hybridity. Across Languages and
Cultures, 2(2), 195-207.


Piero Toto is Lecturer in Translation at London Metropolitan University. His
main field of specialisation is translation technology and training, in
particular electronic tools, information and technology management for
translation, web-based resources for translation and localisation. He has
extensive experience as both in-house and freelance translator and is actively
engaged with industry partners and translation stakeholders in the development
of best practices. His publications include translations into Italian and
articles on masculinity, queer studies and translator training.
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