Mona Baker

Oppression is not a point of view

Translation and Disruption: Global and local perspectives

2017 Portsmouth Translation Conference

Saturday 4 November 2017, University of Portsmouth

Confirmed Keynote speaker:  Prof. Dorothy Kenny, Dublin City University.

Since Clayton Christensen expounded in his seminal book Innovator’s Dilemma how a small-scale but innovative digital technology can overthrow large established businesses overnight, the idea of digital disruption has been causing both excitement and concern in businesses worldwide, from financial and legal services to entertainment distribution and the taxi industry. The world of translation is not immune to such upheavals and the notion of digital disruption is useful for understanding changes in translation practice. Translation is a double-edged sword in the digital world: producers, users and observers of translation can either disrupt or be disrupted.

When used innovatively, translation in new media can exert a disrupting power on the establishment, playing an infrastructural role that assists grassroots activists (Wolfsen and Funke 2016). Information is being translated on mobile devices and saving lives of the vulnerable in crisis situations (e.g. the work by Translators without Borders). Even in war zones, armed forces are trying to make use of translation technology (Rafael 2016). There is an international and multi-industrial drive for transforming translation into a sort of utility by making use of Big Data and automatization, so that translation will “push the evolution of human civilization” ( Translation on Web 2.0 democratises the practice, making it available to amateurs, enabling them to engage in all sorts of creative, cultural activities on a global scale (including fansubbing, scanlation, romhacking and other forms of creative translation; see e.g. O’Hagan 2009). As Pym noted in 2012, “There are at least signs that the technologies may be both democratized and democratising.”

At the same time, traditional notions and practices of translation can be vulnerable to the power of technology. The visibility and agency of professional translators are affected by the advent of machine translation. Increasing emphasis on speed and low-cost is putting enormous pressures on translators. They are now facing the challenge of “incorporate(ing) and defend(ing) chrono-diversity in their working practices in the context of the time-space compression and near instantaneous communication”, which is not just about working conditions but “(p)art of the ethical challenge for translators” (Cronin, 2013, pp. 94-95). Translators are not the only ones facing such vulnerability. Project Managers of Language Service Providers are affected too, as they are expected to play technologically more demanding but culturally and linguistically more limited roles in the digitalised network (Risku, Rossmanith, Reichelt & Zenk 2013).

When looked at from an economic viewpoint, the digital marketplace is bringing a wide range of disorders to conventional industry practice (Pym, Orrego-Carmona & Torres-Simón, 2016). Translation is increasingly bought and sold on the digital marketplace (Garcia 2015), transforming the way relationships and trust are shaped between translators and users. In this rapidly changing landscape, it is difficult to foresee what direction the power dynamics of agencies will take.

We also need to be aware of the way technologies shape the practice of translators. If, following McLuhan, technologies shape our human psyche, new technological developments must influence how we produce, deal with and perceive translation. In the digital world, it is “a question of ontology, rather than of utility. […] The tools shape us as much as we shape them” (Cronin, 2013, p.10).

There are numerous questions that remain unanswered about translation and other digital technologies. How well are we taming these powerful tools for the benefit of human lives? What advantages are we getting and will we get from technology? What are the power dynamics behind all these developments?

We consider a wide range of digital technologies to be relevant for our discussion: machine translation, CAT tools, crowdsourcing, social media, mobile devices, speech recognition, remote interpreting, VLEs and MOOCs (for education). Presentations which will stimulate dialogues between different disciplines such as Translation Studies, Computer Science, Computational Linguistics, Sociology, Anthropology, Cultural Studies and Economics are welcome.  We welcome submissions from postgraduate students, early career and more established researchers, translators and other industry professionals.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

– Digital disruption: the reality of the translation industry?
– The sociality of digital tool use in translation in the history
– Who should become machine translation post editors?
– Ethical and/or efficient data collection methods for machine translation training
– Translators as activists in the digital space
– Translation as a vehicle of grass root communications
– Influence of technologies on human agencies of translation
– Influence of new digital tools to translator’s/user’s cognition
– Promotion of minority cultures and humanitarian causes using translation technologies
– Translation on social media
– Translator as prosumer
– Economy of digital disruption in translation
– Influence of translation technologies to language learning
– Innovative use of technologies in translation education

We welcome proposals of around 200 words for 60-minute practical workshops and 20-minute research papers related to the topic. Please send enquiries and proposals to by 15 June 2017.


Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School.
Cronin, M. (2013). Translation in the digital age. London: Routledge.
Garcia, I. (2015). Cloud marketplaces: Procurement of translators in the age of social media. The Journal of Specialised Translation 23, 18–38.
O’Hagan, M. (2009). Evolution of user-generated translation: fansubs, translation hacking and crowdsourcing. The Journal of Internationalisation and Localisation, I, 94–121.
Pym, A. (2012). Democratizing translation technologies – the role of humanistic research. In V. Cannavina & A. Fellet (Eds.), Language and Translation Automation Conference (pp. 14–29). Rome: The Big Wave.
Pym, A., Orrego-Carmona, D., & Torres-Simón, E. (2016). Status and technology in the professionalization of translators . Market disorder and the return of hierarchy. The Journal of Specialised Translation, (25), 33–53.
Rafael, V. (2016). Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language Amid Wars of Translation. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Risku, H., Rossmanith, N., Reichelt, A., & Zenk, L. (2013). Translation in the network economy. In C. Way (Ed.), Tracks and treks in translation studies: selected papers from the EST Congress, Leuven 2010 (pp. 29–48). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
TAUS. (n.d.). Mission. Retreaved from
Wolfson, T., & Funke, P. N. (2016). The contemporary epoch of struggle Anti-austerity protests, the Arab uprisings and Occupy Wall Street. In M. Baker (Ed.), Translating dissent: voices from and with the Egyptian Revolution(pp. 60–73). New York: Routledge.

Comments are closed.