Serres Translation and the Mechanical Turk

There is some interest in seeing more of Serres's work translated. The usual process of working through expert scholars and translators is very labour intensive, expensive and if there isn't sufficient resource allocation, simply doesn't happen.

Having looked at a number of crowdsourcing options over the years, I've recently been more attentive to how a Serres translation might be accomplished via Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

I'm certain it would raise the ire of many academics but if the choice is between no translation of any sort for a particular book or a less-than-perfect translation, I'd lean toward having something that can be refined and improved rather than having nothing.

The structure of Amazon's Mechanical Turk is that you take a big project (like a book with 100,000 words) and the Mechanical Turk breaks it up into little bits that any number of people can work on (say a sentence or two of translation at a time). Then the material is reassembled and you can review it, etc.

I have no idea about relative costs, quality, feasibility, etc., but rather than waiting around for some of Serres's work to be translated, it may be a possible angle to consider for decreasing the turnaround time from years/decades to weeks/months.

Your thoughts?


Rodrigo Blanco said...

I'm not sure how this works, but I would be interested in contributing. An entire book would kill me because of time limitations but if its being done piecemeal I would have no problem lending a hand. I usually do articles from spanish or french to English.

C. Brayton said...

Does the fable of the blind men and the elephant ring any bells? The whole notion of crowd-sourced translation is the product of an extremely naive view of what language and discourse are.

With the use of modern CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools on a network, a small team of professionals working simultaneously in this way could produce high quality in a reasonably short period of time.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure CAT tools would work very well with the brand of writing Serres has. To truly capture his appreciation of word-choice as well as the flow of his longer sentences you'd have to have a human doing the translation. A machine wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of many of most of that stuff.

Angelos said...

I have just finished reading the greek translation of The Parasite, some concepts having to do with my PhD. At first I addressed the particular passages I thought I'd be interested in in the French version, then a lot more in the English translation (actually, both the Johns Hopkins' and the Upress), all accompanied by several academic papers on the book. After hitting on a number of dead ends with the notions I was working with, I ended up reading the whole book in greek (my native language), a task which took almost five (!) months, but only through taking the whole journey did I manage to understand the atributes of a high number of terms fully.

In my opinion it is impossible to break the thing up in bits and pieces, firstly because Serres plays with terminology and double and triple meanings of the words a lot, and secondly (and perhaps even more importantly), Serres achieves meaning through twists and turns and nuances of narrations. Moreover, it takes a highly encyclopaedic knowlege to grasp all the little references and links he makes with the terms and references he uses, so it is very easy to translate something in the wrong way if you are focused solely with specific passages and only those.