Monday, 17 December 2012

A voice in the Crowd

 A colleague of mine developed a marvelous theory she calls traducture which describes the power relations inherently constructed through translation.  For instance, when you hold a meeting and decide one language will be the primary language of communication and other languages will use translation, the primary language and meanings in that language move to the top of a hierarchy.  A power structure forms.  There are many subtle ways in which translation influences power, some of which are quite obvious like this example, others may be less apparent.  Having done some very informal, if-no-one-else-can-then-I-will-try sort of translation (it's a very challenging skill that I do not possess), but more often working as a cultural translator in tandem with professional translators, I have seen the impact of these power dynamics first hand.  

A recent article in the New York Times explored this topic with the example of sign language used by scientists.  The concluding remarks reflected both the cultural and cognitive divide in communication between the deaf community and hearing community.
Such elegant personifications of tricky scientific concepts leave some deaf students feeling sorry for those who rely on their ears. “One of my students was telling me recently that she can’t imagine the difficulty that hearing instructors must have in describing concepts through spoken English, because of the linearity of spoken language,” Dr. Braun said.

Listening to other communities and cultures express sentiments such as this drives me to look at how technology (ICT) captures communication.  Is it only able to capture 'the linearity of spoken language' because the organization of interface objects and the databases they connect to presumes a linear narrative pattern?

Recently, I had an article accepted for publication on the topic of crowdsourced translation, specifically used in the context of crisis and disasters.  My intent was to reflect on the process of designing the technology and consider how the broader context and long-term use of the translated (and raw untranslated) information could drive design change.

you can read a pre-publish copy here

Both International non-governmental organizations and government actors have embraced the technological union of humans and software, known as crowdsourcing, to manage the flood of information produced during recent crises. However, unlike a business solution, the task of translation is unique during a crisis situation; the costs are human, and the impact is social and political. This paper follows four crises in which different crowdsourcing applications were developed by a range of actors. In each instance, the design approach failed to incorporate the unique circumstances of the conflict context resulting in a translation application which removed authorship, dissolved intentionality, and shed contextual markers from original sources. This flawed application prevented the original contributors from interacting with the information directly related to their own life-threatening situation, and the information it amassed formed an unsound basis for decision-making by international actors. The associated consequences during: post-earthquake Haiti 2010, Libya and Egypt 2011, and Somalia 2011/12 are intended to provoke process improvement among all stakeholders.

No comments:

Post a Comment