Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Monkeys, Peanuts and Translators
July 12, 2010 - By: - In: Translation - 24 comments

“If you’re not a monkey, stop working for peanuts!” say the guys at No Peanuts! for Translators, which provides “support and resources to professional translators and interpreters in demanding and receiving a living wage for their work.”

“No Peanuts! means refusing to believe that translators are powerless. No Peanuts! means rejecting the notion that translators must kowtow to so-called ‘market demand’ as if we had no ability to create our own markets. No Peanuts! means insisting that we need not live in fear or accept exploitation in exchange for the right to earn a living in our chosen field.”

Translators of the world unite!  Standing up against the machines, against the mega-agencies like TransPerfect, who “have helped turn the client-provider relationship inside out.  Many clients have followed their lead and now assume they have the right to dictate rates to translators.”

Ready to throw down your chains, translation workers? Here’s how to do it: Hold the line on your pricing, and tell your clients why. Take back control from the mega-agencies, and don’t bid cheap. Boycott the bad guys, and tell others about them. Don’t be reduced to servitude, and keep the scabs from scabbing. And don’t panic.

Whoops. Too late on that last one, because the whole site just screams “panic” to me. Sorry, guys. The industry salad days have been tossed out with the salad spinner water―at least for now. The great wheel of commerce crushes all in its path.

Technology is catching up to the old model just as we’ve been punched in the gut with the downturn. And it’s the “small people,” the hewers of words and the bearers of text strings, who must carry this burden in a law as old as the pyramids. Too bad, especially when the “No Peanuts!” guys have justice and human dignity on their side.  Meanwhile, someone else is banging away on the iron triangle of service, beating out “better, faster, cheaper; better, faster, cheaper.”

A few months ago, a translator friend sent me a transcript of a thread between a TransPerfect project manager and a translator arguing about an $11 penalty for some mistakes made during a rush job. It read like a checklist of “No Peanuts” grievances. I was going to run it, but it was just too depressing to be mistaken for amusing.

Nevertheless, in an empty gesture of solidarity with all you translators who want to make as much money as you used to, I’ll share the best part of that sad little story. That same shit-rate job was offered to 260 translators. That’s what we call the pool―all the little translators in the koi pond ready to strike at whatever crumb is tossed their way.

Blame it on the rise of the machines. Not the machine translations, not the swarms of amateurs who will do the same work for nothing more than a virtual pat on the back, not them alone, but the TENTS and the CATS and all the other software that LSP buyers use to create a bigger pool to find the cheapest translators right away, and to punish the same more effectively when they fail.

Organize! Sing “Joe Hill.” And just as King Canute commands the sea, so ye shall drive back the bottom feeders from the shores of the industry. Just watch out for that scab translator #260 under that rock over there because she is figuring out how to climb aboard the great commercial juggernaut on terms that pay for her, if not for you. And if she passes on that one, translator #22666 on PRoZ will take it, and the translation provided, for good or ill, might just fit the bill.

It’s not all glum news, though. Here’s a hilarious video from the site, “How Not to Discuss Rates with a Translator,” which will strike a chord with anyone who shares the frustration of the No Peanuts! cadres.

“All right then you! Enough of your talk!”  Oh no. It’s Bull from MegaTrans, and he’s got an axe handle. “Back to your keyboards now, you lollygaggers, or you’ll be sorry!  For it’s work all day for sugar in your tay, down beyond the dictionary…” Where’s Joe Hill when you need him?!

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