BE it science and technology, art and literature, philosophy and history, politics and international affairs, it is the translators who are opening the doors and windows to the world for us. Yet, in Pakistan, they remain the most invisible of knowledge workers.
Working in practically every field, these workers translate texts — containing ideas, concepts, information — making an important contribution towards society’s development, using their specialised skills. Who are these people and what are their concerns?
There is very little that we know about how this category of knowledge workers operates in a milieu which displays little understanding of the importance of translation in today’s world and that confers hardly any recognition on the profession. Translators in Pakistan usually work in isolation. Apart for those that translate literary works, translators in most disciplines have no opportunity to intermingle with one another. An important reason for this state of affairs is the absence of any collective platform or association of translators.
In most countries associations of translators are active, strengthening the profession and acting as an interface between knowledge workers and various organs of society that need their services. The International Federation of Translators has 100 associations from 55 countries affiliated with it, and representing over 80,000 translators the world over. In Asia, translators’ associations from China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Macau are affiliated with the IFT.
Translators in the country remain unrecognised.
The number of translators’ associations worldwide is much greater. In the European Union alone, there are over 100 associations of translators and interpreters as indicated by a 2012 report. Closer to home, Iran has a thriving culture that promotes the translation profession. The state in Iran established the College of Translation in 1973, which was later merged with the Literature and Humanities University. Currently, 38 universities offer MA in translation studies. There are three official translators’ associations and 56 unofficial translators’ agencies in Iran.
Globalisation and international trade, technology transfer, cultural exchange, and labour and other forms of migration have increased the need and importance of translation in all countries. In May 2017, the UN adopted a resolution recognising the role of professional translation in “connecting nations, and fostering peace, understanding and development”. The UN also declared Sept 30 as the official International Translation Day, though the day has been celebrated for the last many years.
The issues faced by translators in Pakistan range from a lack of recognition of their work and low remuneration to poor standards of translation and the absence of an established code of ethics. Many lament current practices in the electronic and print media with regard to languages, linguistics and terminologies, lack of certification and accreditation and the general deficit in the teaching of languages.
In the last three decades, a substantial amount of translation in various disciplines has been done. But there is still lack of adequate dissemination and the absence of documentation and indexing. To address these problems, the government, for starters, should set up a translation house to promote and streamline the profession. Professional education in translation needs to be promoted. Meanwhile, academic councils should introduce translation studies degree programmes at Karachi University, Jamshoro University and the Federal Urdu University, to name a few. Currently, the subject is being taught at four universities — University of Gujrat, National University of Modern Languages, International Islamic University and Allama Iqbal Open University.
A number of freelance translators in Pakistan use online translator-client portals to link up with clients in search of specific translation jobs globally. Quite a few translators combine human translation with machine translation using online tools. An internet search on the current demand for translators in Pakistan shows an increasing demand for specific translation jobs.
Associations of knowledge workers play a critical role in garnering public and official recognition for professionals. A collective platform can take up this role and tackle some tough tasks, including formulation of a code of ethics for translators, advocacy for degree programmes at universities, support for training and education of translators, provision for professional testing and certification of translators and assistance to members in finding employment.
In a multilingual society like ours, made complicated with the dominance of the English language, the role of translators is even more critical as they facilitate our understanding of diverse cultures and help with social integration.
The writer is a researcher in the development sector.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2017