In the beginning, the idea that this glossary should be multilingual was one of the keystones of the project: it was impossible to talk about multi-culturality in a book published in a single language which would therefore reflect the idiosyncrasies of a single culture. Thus it was decided that invitations to contribute would be sent to international experts from all corners of the world, who could respond with a text in one of the four most representative languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French. Each author would define their views in their native language, and their articles would be enriched by a debate among all the authors participating in the project. Once complete, the articles would be translated into all four languages.

This process became complicated once we realized that some authors did not necessarily understand a second language. It was then proposed that a team of translations take on the task of translating the original version of the articles, in addition to the articles once the editorial process was complete. This would allow the 27 authors and 3 coordinators to exchange comments and communicate with each other.
The Union latine offered to take on the difficult task of coordinating the translation process throughout the project.

The translation phase

The translation team included professionals from various countries. The most difficult issue was ensuring the plurality of the project - in particular, taking into consideration that the four languages are spoken in a vast range of countries. We managed to respect the diversity of origins, although once again we have seen that people interested in languages and in particular in translation are for the most part women. Thus, the translators involved in this project came from Brazil, Cuba, the United States, France, Great Britain, Paraguay and Venezuela (cf. presentation of the translators).

Managing the translation phase has not been easy. Due to the translators being located in a variety of countries, we had to use email as the only form of communication. The original text for each article was immediately sent out to the team for translation into the other three languages. Once translated, the article was placed on the projects Internet site, allowing all authors to read it and the process of debating the different concepts could begin.

Thanks to the discussions between authors and project coordinators, improvements could be made to the articles through adding or deleting ideas, or merely by changing its internal structure to make it more accessible for the general public. The new version of the articles was then sent to the respective translators so that they could make the necessary adjustments in the other languages. At the end of this phase, the articles were ready for online publication and for printing.

In general, this is how it all happened. However, as we began to move into the translation phase, we realized that, in its own right, this book provided solid proof of the utility of new information technologies in todays society. In a word, a project such as this could not have been undertaken - at least in so little time - a few years ago, when the Internet was not available. The ability to count on the participation of specialists and translators from all corners of the world was vital and without it, this project would still be on the drawing board.

Internet, multilingualism and multiculturality

Thus, as we expected, it was possible to bring this project to fruition in part because of the Internet. However, even if Internet-based communication and tele-teamwork have a number of advantages, they also create a few problems.

To facilitate communications among the coordinators, three discussion lists were created. These were also used to communicate with authors and translators. The first was dedicated to tasks involved in coordinating the work, the second acted as a communication tool for coordinators, authors and translators, and finally the third was created just for the translators so that they could resolve difficulties with the languages.

Nevertheless, one of the major technical problems was, of course, access to the Internet. As everyone knows, in most Southern countries it is not easy to have access to this tool, for technical or financial reasons. Hence, because of this difficulty, the lists did not always fulfil their role as a means of communication: some of the translators did not have direct access to the Internet, they did not receive urgent messages in real time, such as last-minute changes or authors comments which needed to be translated rapidly in order to facilitate the discussions between them.

This last problem of communication with the authors allowed us to discover another “technical” problem. In fact, as replies were not received rapidly from the translators, we decided to use an automatic translation software programme internally for the discussion lists, in order to accelerate the exchange of ideas between team members. This tool certainly simplified the communication problems when the end reader of a translation had at least some notions of the original language, but if he or she had none, these translations did not make any sense, or worse still, they created misunderstandings. Coordinators and translations had to intervene to clarify difficulties in understanding the messages.

This situation highlights the erroneous notion that the translator will sooner or later be replaced by a machine. That is a long way off. In any case, it will be difficult to create a programme which is capable of identifying the fine - or not so fine - nuances in every culture on our planet and the even more difficult task of contacting authors of treated texts for clarification of certain ambiguous terms, as we had to do during this project.

Another difficulty arose from the fact that some authors - globalization oblige - no longer live in their native country and speak several languages. Often in fact, at the professional level, they expressed themselves better in their “adopted” language, since they had studied or worked in a country with a different language. Some authors wrote their articles in these “adopted” languages. Nevertheless, although they are indeed adept with professional jargon, they sometimes make a few grammatical mistakes.

On the other hand, authors are often so immersed in their topic that they are not aware that their text is not sufficiently clear for the reader.

Faced with grammatical errors and ambiguity in the terminology, the translator played a very important role; an automatic translation programme could never have either a translators intellectual ability to interpret such errors, or the capability of trusting in his or her intuition. The resulting text would be incomprehensible.

In the end, we wish to emphasize that it was in fact the contributions of the translators in asking for clarification of terminology on the common discussion list, which created the most discussions among the authors. During these discussions, each author defended his or her opinion on the terms in question, which confirmed the need for such a publication in order to reach some “agreements” on concepts as they are being created and in a constant state of transformation, without for all that forgetting the differences implied in cultural diversity implies.

Indeed, this publication succeeds as a multicultural venture in very large part because of the work of the translators. Could we really have talked about multiculturalism if the book had been translated automatically? Each author works with the idiosyncrasies of his or her own culture in dealing with a concept relating to a theme as vast as the Information Society, but to what extent can this new societys new technologies reflect perfectly the various cultures represented by these texts? We can see that, thanks to the work of the translators and to constant communication among the authors, we were able to obtain a clear and precise text in a different language. Very often, it was in fact the participation of the translators which led to improvements in the original text.

We wish to thank the translators once more for their tremendous work in the accomplishment of this multilingual and multicultural project, and for their collaboration and commitment to the communication process.

3 April 2006

couverture du livre enjeux de mots This text is an extract from the book Word Matters: multicultural perspectives on information societies. This book, which has been coordinated by Alain Ambrosi, ValĂ©rie Peugeot and Daniel Pimienta was released on November 5, 2005 by C & F Éditions.

The text is under the Creative Commons licence, by, non commercial.

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