In 2004, the last year that federal statistics were available, about 31,000 individuals in the United States were listed as translators and interpreters in schools, health care, courts, airlines, telecommunication and other fields.This is just the most recent in a wave of articles all of which recognize that in an increasingly interconnected world, those with multilingual abilities are going to be in high demand. There is money to be made; the article cites a going rate $16.30/hr for freelance work, a sufficiently high wage to keep up with the costs of living even in some of the more cosmopolitan areas of the country, those in which the market for translation services is going to continue to rise. But how will this demand continue to be met? Will the financial planners of the American school system cease to view foreign language instruction as auxiliary to learning, rather than an essential component of a complete education? Will vocational training schools proliferate, or will departments of comparative literature on campuses across the country more urgently remind their propsective students that jobs are waiting for graduates? I don't think anyone is expecting machine translation to advance so far in the next five years as to stem the current growth in this industry, so this is a question that is going to remain pertinent.
I'm particularly interested in considering whether there is a distinction to be made between professional (service) translation, and literary translation. An analogy might be drawn to the relationship between commercial copywriter and literary writer. Whence literary creativity, in the working of legal documents, medical transcripts, or business records from one language to another? Is there a perceptible difference between those who identify with professional work, and those who see themselves as working in a literary mode? A rivalry, a bias? This is a question more well-suited for a sociologist, but one which deserves answering if the translation industry becomes sufficiently strong to begin demanding reasonable compensation for the translation of foreign literature into English.
In the Bee article, reporter Darrell Smith asks Argentina-born Monica Nainsztein, owner of Sacramento firm Spanish Media Translations, about her work composing subtitles for studio films:
"I grew up watching movies in Argentina saying, 'Hey, that's not what they said.'" [....] "You're helping people understand. You're connecting cultures, informing people," Nainsztein said. "And showing your family your work on screen? That's priceless."I am aware of at least once collegiate study abroad program, that for Boston University in Madrid, that offers a course in which students are assigned to writer Spanish subtitles for Hollywood films. That is, to me, a terrific assignment, in which students are confronted literary, commercial, and practical constraints. All this, and the requirement that they produce output that is instantly understood by an audience having only moments to read the text. If someone knows where the topic of the translation of cinematic subtitles is discussed, I'd be glad to read more about it. It's a topic I think we should explore in a future issue of the print journal. Thoughts?