Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Translator v. linguist

One thing that riles me is the habit many translation companies have of calling us "linguists". According to my dictionaries, a linguist is either a specialist in linguistics or a person who knows more than one language.

Neither meaning directly applies: not all translators are specialists in linguistics, and most specialists in linguistics are certainly not translators. And though all translators do know more than one language, not all people who know more than one language have what it takes to be translators.

9 comments:

  1. It looks like it's an American Engish usage which has not yet caught up in Europe...

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  2. I agree there tends to be a lot of general confusion regarding the language industry as a whole.

    http://www.letutor.com/blog

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  3. Professional interpreterSaturday, August 23, 2008

    I totally agree with you. What bothers me is when I am interpreting and people refer to me as the translator... We all need to work towars educating our clients for the benefit of our industry. For example, we included a video on our website to explain the difference between an interpreter and a translator.

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  4. Well, even in the U.S. a linguist is technically someone who holds a degree in linguistics. Dictionaries, even the OED, allow the meaning "speaker of multiple languages," but a translator may not even really speak a translation language (e.g. Latin?).

    -MT

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  5. Some translators are starting to market themselves as linguists - search LinkedIn job titles for example, to find translators (with nary a linguistics degree in sight) listing themselves as linguists. And who can blame them, if that's the keyword their clients are using to find people with their skillset? Finding clients trumps educating clients every time.

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  6. Webster's first definition is simply "a person accomplished in languages", and while that also includes people other than T/Is, I certainly count myself as a linguist. I often find it handy when I want to ring the changes and don't want to keep repeating "translators and/or interpreters".

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  7. Our respective definitions of the word 'linguist' are slightly different: I always thought that a linguist is a language scholar. He studies languages (and I don't mean he learns them). So, indeed, as you say, some outsourcers seem to either be playing suck-up with us, or they simply can't tell one from the other, which is bad news.

    In any case, I wonder what linguists think of being compared to translators...

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  8. I wonder if you didn't mean " And though all translators do know more than one language, not all people who know more than one language have what it takes to be linguists" (linguists rather than translators)

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    Replies
    1. No, I meant "not all people who know more than one language have what it takes to be translators", but you are right, this would also be true for "not all people who know more than one language have what it takes to be linguists".

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