Jiménez-Crespo, Miguel A. (2017). Crowdsourcing and Online Collaborative Translations. Expanding the limits of Translation Studies. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 304, €90. ISBN 9789027265852.
Rarely has a subtitle been as relevant as this one! In Crowdsourcing and Online Collaborative Translations, Miguel Jiménez-Crespo intends to do just that; to explore and expand the limits of Translation Studies from an interdisciplinary perspective in light of these two phenomena that “challenge many axioms in the discipline” (1).
As these are relatively new phenomena, the author starts with a review of existing definitions of crowdsourcing and online collaborative translations. He then makes the excellent point that, even though both are mainly carried out by volunteers or for extremely low compensation, a major difference between them lies in the “locus of control” (21). He thus defines crowdsourcing as “collaborative translation processes performed through dedicated web platforms that are initiated by companies or organizations and in which participants collaborate with motivations other than strictly monetary” as opposed to online collaborative translations which are “collaborative translation processes in the web initiated by self-organized online communities in which participants collaborate with motivations other than monetary” (25). Reviewing the history of their emergence in chapter two, Jiménez-Crespo also comments that collaborative translations far predate the age of the Internet. However, the emergence of new participatory cultures such as the first audio-visual fan communities in the 1980s alongside the emergence of personal PCs and the Internet in the 1990s made it possible for crowdsourcing and online collaborative translations to become mainstream in the noughties with Web 2.0. Obviously, this has had an impact on the industry as a whole and chapter three shows how crowdsourcing has changed the traditional Translate-Edit-Publish model. Companies such as Facebook, for instance, prefer an iterative process for the translation of its user interface where editing can happen after publication through crowd participation. In a seismic shift, translators no longer have responsibility for the successful completion of the translation process. Responsibility has now shifted to the developers and managers in charge of setting up successful workflows and of sustaining motivation through community building.
This, Jiménez-Crespo convincingly argues in chapter four, should feed into current thinking in the field of Cognitive Translatology where we also need to explore the “impact of distributing the cognitive task of translation among several non-professional translators working on the same text” (100) by analysing crowdsourcing networks and processes “in the wild” (107). It should also make us revisit the concept of translation quality, which he says is one of the “most controversial issues in Translation Studies” (121). With the emergence of MT and new business models in the 20th century, the academic notion of top quality translations in all cases had already started appearing as an “imaginary myth” (123). Crowdsourcing and online collaborative translations debunk the myth even further by dissociating quality from economic pressures and market demands. The translator – who often doubles up as the end-user, or “prosumer” (19) – focuses instead on speed and accessibility. As a result, “dynamic models of quality become the norm” (124). This can sometimes lead to a truly iterative, user-centred approach to translation with, for instance, the constant opportunities for user feedback on published translations offered by Microsoft Language Portal and Facebook. Interestingly, this can be seen to destabilise the translated text, which is now in constant flux through user feedback. In fact, Jiménez-Crespo shows that it is the very notion of stable texts – upon which translation studies was founded – that is questioned by the advent of new technologies and, more specifically, by the segmentation brought about by MT. With each fragment potentially translated by a different translator in crowdsourcing and online collaborative translations, the macrotextual level seems to disappear altogether. This challenges the idea of a “discrete textual unit” as it “tak[es] translation back to the early days of linguistic and equivalence based approaches at sentence level” (159). A solution to this issue in the industry has been to hire language experts to oversee, for instance, the entire website now considered as a text.
This undeniably expands the notion of “translated text” in translation studies as it comes to be seen as a translation product that, depending on needs, can either be produced by “translation professionals” (top quality) or by “competent bilinguals” (standard quality). In the chapter seven, Jiménez-Crespo further explores the substantial impact of online collaborative translations on the industry by showing rather convincingly how the innovative and creative approaches to subtitling taken by fansubbing communities challenge professional norms and thus expands the limits of translation. Where it may be easy to understand the motivations of fansubbing communities, it can prove somewhat trickier to fathom what motivates people to engage in crowdsourcing. Chapter eight thus takes a look at this phenomenon makes the case from a sociological perspective to try and understand what motivates people to join in. It also further examines ethical implications for participants. Last but not least, Jiménez-Crespo shows in the last chapter how encouraging translation students to take part in volunteering activities such as the ones offered by some online collaborative translation projects could help them develop the translation competences the industry is after.