LINGUIST List 24.3046

Fri Jul 26 2013

Review: Translation: Cronin (2013)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 28-Mar-2013
From: Piero Toto <>
Subject: Translation in the Digital Age
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Michael CroninTITLE: Translation in the Digital AgePUBLISHER: 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 rolethat technology tools play in shaping translation across societies andcenturies. According to the author, tools play a central role in definingcultures and identities: they differentiate men from animals and give themsuperiority amongst all other species. The book is divided into five mainchapters, with each one dealing with one specific aspect of translation andbeing further divided into subsections. Each chapter is linked to theprevious one.

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

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

Chapter 3 (‘Translating limits’) explores translation’s contribution toenriching cultures and going beyond limits/frontiers. Cronin takes translationas an example of a driving force behind globalization and presents the case oftranslation smartphone apps, which offer users ‘a vision […] of a borderlessworld of instantaneous language access’ (p. 71). This borderless andstandardized idea of translation is identifiable as part of an extensiveculture (Lash, in Cronin, 2013: 70) -- the ‘endless multiplication of goods,services or ideas’ (p. 5) -- and is in contrast with translation as activeengagement with the world (e.g. the translation of Arabic poetry), whichinstead requires coping ‘with the seemingly intractable differences oflanguages and cultures’ (p. 73). This is an approach more readily identifiablewith an intensive culture, i.e., a culture of non-equivalence. Concepts suchas identicality and variability in translation are also discussed in thischapter: while the former refers to the possibility of unequivocallyidentifying the author of a text/product in order to repeat content exactly asoriginally intended, the latter acknowledges the ‘very variable nature oftranslation practice’ (p. 87), thus admitting that no one version of the sametext will be exactly the same. The relationship between these two conceptspoints towards variability (or ‘nonstandard seriality’) as the predominantmodel and paradigm being followed in the digital age, where contentcustomization is a primary source of profitability.

In Chapter 4 (‘Everyware’), Cronin highlights the ‘centrality of the labour oftranslation’ (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 thesame product requires extensive levels of automation and quick turnarounds.What characterizes this process are two main elements: bi-directionality andasynchronicity. Bi-directionality is the potential for dynamic communication,conversation and feedback between consumers and producers, whileasynchronicity is the 24/7 availability of online services and offers. Thisconstant flow of information, combined with the ‘sense of recurrent temporaldeficit’ (p. 94) that most translators seem to go through, creates a challengefor translators, that is, this issue of how to embed ‘chrono-diversity’ (i.e.the different timeframes needed to accomplish differing projects) ‘in thecontext of the time-space compression and near-instantaneous communication’(p. 95) of the digital age. For companies, creating multilingual content ontheir 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 dialoguewith customers and users alike. However, as is especially the case withlocalization companies, what content is prioritized for translation is amatter of how profitable that content will be to the company, which may limitaccess to vital information such as that related to healthcare. Differentmodes of translation are also explored in this chapter, such aswiki-translations, whose crowdsourcing efforts further highlight the role oftranslators as ‘prosumers’ (i.e. both producers and consumers) and recipientsof their own work. Cronin also mentions the shift towards ‘power browsing’from traditional, linear ways of text consumption. This has implications fortranslation too, which, especially when coupled with MT, is gradually beingmarketed as gist translation, or a lower-quality activity. Overall, whilelocalization shows a certain degree of dehumanization of processes,crowdsourcing and its multi-purpose application involve ‘a strategic use oftechnical resources to further human concerns or agendas’ (p. 103). Thechapter also includes a discussion on the notions of ethical, ostensible andpenal transparency, as identified by the author.

The last chapter (‘Details’) deals with the impact of indicative/gisttranslations (as produced by MT systems) on the translation industry, andconsequently, on translators’ workflows/roles and the ‘quest’ for quality intranslation. 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 textbut rather the overall effect they create, the need for quality intranslation, particularly in post-editing, marks ‘the return of the repressedtranslation detail’ (p. 128), which re-emerges through the attention to text,language and meaning, thus reaffirming once again the central role of thetranslator in the current scenario. Other concepts discussed in the last partof this chapter are, amongst others, digital humanism (i.e. an emergingdiscipline concerned with the relationship between computing and thehumanities), the demonetization of translation (i.e. how crowdsourcing andfree translation services affect translation’s status as a valuable andprofitable 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’, inparticular): challenging, thought-provoking, accurate and multidisciplinary.Several complementary areas of study are investigated along with translationin order to explain concepts and notions introduced and/or further discussedin the book. At times, the reader may feel that such investigations take overthe discussion of translation due to the numerous examples, explanations andreferences provided. On one hand, this enriches the reader’s experience, buton the other hand, it might pose a challenge for those very digitalreaders/translators who are attracted by the title/topic of the book, whomight find that their reading (or ‘power browsing’, as Cronin himself calls itin Chapter 4, albeit in reference to web reading) is slowed down by therelative complexity and density of some of the language used and the conceptsexpressed. There is also a slight propensity to discussing literarytranslation 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 themore tech-minded, such as out-of-the-ordinary localization and digitalhumanism, come to the fore, especially in the final chapters. Chapter 4 isparticularly insightful in that it highlights the fundamental role oftranslation technology in helping companies deal with the mass provision ofdifferentiated content, be it original content, updates, customer supportrequests, etc. What Cronin defines as the ‘paradigm of control’ (p. 92) is theneed for companies to centralize their approach to content management in anincreasingly ‘centrifugal’ scenario, where the workload is distributed acrossseveral translators living in different time zones and where they feel aconstant ‘sense of […] never doing enough fast enough’ (p. 94), which causesthem stress and dissatisfaction with their working conditions and theirlifestyle. This is consistent with current debates on translators’ well-beingand the need for self-care (especially for freelancers) in the workplace,which dominate translation blogs and social networks. It is also possibly anarea which could be further explored in relation to the changing face of thetranslator’s role in automated processes and how their centrality asstakeholders in the translation process as a whole can be retained. It wouldalso help budding translators and seasoned scholars reflect on theimplications of the digital revolution and the role of technology in ourlives. For this reason, this volume seems particularly suitable for studentswith existing knowledge and awareness of the ‘digital turn’ in translationstudies; since the intricacies of today’s fast-paced world of translationtechnologies are dissected and explained against the backdrop of globalizationand current translation industry policies, they might pose a challenge forstudents who are just beginning to approach this discipline and who mighttherefore not be completely familiar with all facets of the translationindustry. Nevertheless, this is an extremely resourceful and useful volumewhich will undoubtedly provide much-needed food-for-thought for scholars andstudents alike.


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

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

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


Piero Toto is Lecturer in Translation at London Metropolitan University. Hismain field of specialisation is translation technology and training, inparticular electronic tools, information and technology management fortranslation, web-based resources for translation and localisation. He hasextensive experience as both in-house and freelance translator and is activelyengaged with industry partners and translation stakeholders in the developmentof best practices. His publications include translations into Italian andarticles on masculinity, queer studies and translator training.

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