I got all excited when today’s exercise tidying up my e-mail folders revealed that The Economist Intelligence Unit had sent me a complimentary copy their special report entitled “Industries in 2014“. If you haven’t clicked away from this page already, let me tell you a story about how this is connected to language in general and translation in particular.
I started working for a credit insurance company (stay with me; the ghastly non poetic bits will disappear soon) with the glorious sounding title of “Secretary to the General Manager, and Translator”. It was a bit of a shock to the system after three years at university immersing myself in language studies, and linguistics and translation theory and practice followed by a post-graduate year studying French literature and trying to get a class of first-year students once a week to submit themselves with enthusiasm to the rigours of French to English translation. This last aspect was not always easy, since one student insisted on signing the attendance register by making a perfect imprint of her lips – covered in bright purple lipstick – in the shape of a kiss on the page.
Never mind that. The point is that I had willingly left the hallowed halls of the university library and, apart from the weekly lipstick episodes, the rarefied air of the French Department for a place in the real world where I copy-typed general correspondence, export credit insurance policies in triplicate or quadruplicate, depending, and translated creditworthiness reports and balance sheets, and then typed those.
The other shock to my system was that suddenly, I had hardly anything to read in my daily environment. Then one day, I realised that the company subscribed to The Economist. I am such a sucker for well-written prose. I was hooked in no time. Getting hold of this newspaper each week was an art in itself. I would watch it as it passed from the most senior to most junior manager. When it reached the lower strata, I would ask whichever of the more junior managers had it at the time if I could read it during my lunch break.* I had to do it quickly , because the last manager on the list always took it home, and it was never seen again.
This helter-skelter chasing after a weekly magazine covering economic issues might be hard for people in the first world to understand. In Zimbabwe, where I was at the time, good reading material was always hard to find. Reading a publication to which I could not afford to subscribe was heaven. Now you know why I was so excited to receive a 40-page PDF from such a reputable source today. The sheer joy of having it all to myself cannot be overstated!
Another reason I am glad to have received “Industries in 2014” is that I picked up on something which has escaped my attention before: The Economist sees the “Automotive, Consumer Goods and Retail, Energy, Financial Services, Healthcare and Telecommunications” industries as being the six key industries. Fellow translators, especially younger ones, may want to take note of where the world’s money is, and specialise accordingly.
This has been an altogether exciting week. I am participating in a MOOC for the first time in my life. The subject is Corpus Linguistics. I shall make no apology whatsoever for being interested in linguistics. It is what keeps me amused whenever I find myself in a long queue with nothing else to do. The wealth of material being made available for free is astounding, as are the ideas contained in that material. I feel as if I have come alive again. You can read all about it this once in a lifetime opportunity here: Corpus linguistics: method, analysis, interpretation. Scroll down to listen to a short trailer video. There are well over 1,000 people from all over the world participating and the classroom discussions and interactions are fascinating, and instructive. Mind-blowing, more like.
Why I got so excited about my complimentary copy of the 40-page text from the EIU is that it is perfect for a little practical experiment I would like to conduct as part of the Corpus Linguistics course. The Economist, as many know, has its own style guide for its journalists, and a rather strict editorial policy. Ideally, I would need another text of similar subject matter and length, preferably from an American source. Either that, or a similar report from The Economist from five, or ten, years ago. The idea is to be able to compare something – syntactical shift on either side of the Pond, or syntactical shift over time within The Economist.
You see, I have been noticing what seems to me to be a general shift in formal writing away from using “which” and the various inflected forms of “who” in relative clauses, and replacing it – whether appropriate or not – with “that”. Extremely briefly, I am curious to know how far from prescriptivist grammar actual usage has drifted.
Believe it or not, in this digital age, there exist software tools which can render such texts (or corpora) in a format which makes such analysis objectively possible. This software is being made available free on the above-mentioned course, and participants are being shown how to use it. I think my little project is possibly a little too ambitious for the knowledge I have at my disposal, but even if I have to reduce my original idea to its bare essentials, I just know that looking at the results “the machine” spits out will be very interesting indeed.
The title of this post, by the way, is in reference to the category translators invariably have to choose when they sign up to receive such gems as weekly reports from The Economist Global Forecast Service, or any other website where we might find information useful to our profession.
* I was not always so industrious. Some days, I went out for lunch – as you will discover on page 78 of my soon to be self-published illustrated vignettes. Since I cannot think of any other image which would neatly encapsulate the dual topics of economics and linguistics so superficially discussed here, I shall leave you with the cover: