Multidisciplinary Task Forces to Manage Complexity

Two weeks ago, a complete 18th century library was discovered in Bouillon. The books, all of them over 200 years old, are in pristine condition. A miracle for bibliophiles.

The 18th century was the last moment in history when it seemed possible for Encyclopedists to be well-informed about the latest developments in just about every science and art, where a well-read person could acquire a somewhat reliable overview of the state of human knowledge.  That is also how I sometimes felt in the early years of my career as a translator: after I translated a book about neo-classical architecture, I felt that, for at least 10 to 15 minutes, I could pass for a historian and architect without being exposed as a fraud. If I crafted the translation of a social scientist’s report on ageing, I temporarily deluded myself in having become subject domain expert on the elderly.

Nowadays, hyper-specialisation is the norm. Medical translation is the work of doctors. Legal translators don’t do automotive translations. Experts need to be called in for most projects because the expertise required can no longer be expected to be blended into one ideal player.

When cApStAn runs linguistic quality control and equivalence checks of engineering assessments for undergraduate students, it takes a dyad, in this case one civil engineer and one linguist per language version. If a platform is developed to administer a survey in multiple languages, a translation technologist should be involved in the early stages, so that one doesn’t have to propose patches and fixes to an environment that has not been designed to accommodate both case management and translation memory management. 

We see it every day: in addition to the experts in each field, there is always a need for a project manager who can run multidisciplinary meetings, who listens to concerns while seeing the big picture, and who exercises discernment. We may have access to the best linguists and the best domain experts – we still need to be able to make them talk to each other and enjoy working together. And that is the universal skill that we need to foster, hone and cherish.

Photo credits: © Bereal in Le Vif