Institutional Communication and Translation: the Case of Multilingual Organizations

Dans le document Evaluation of Statistical Machine Translation Engines in the Context of International Organizations (Page 31-34)

IV. Machine Translation and Institutional Translation

4.1. Institutional Communication and Translation: the Case of Multilingual Organizations

Institutional communication —also known as organizational communication— is a subfield of communications studies that focuses on the analysis of the role of communication in organizational contexts. This includes interpersonal communication (communication between individuals) or external communication (communication with clients, partners, members, etc.). The Constitutive Model is a common approach to organizational communication which arose during the 1980s.

According to this model, the particular acts of communication within an organization must be seen as a constitutive and shaping factor, rather than as a product of institutional dynamics. Figure 7 illustrates the Four Flows Theory, described in McPhee and Zaug (2000), from the Arizona State University. In accordance to this theory, organizations require four different types of message flows in order to respond to distinct types of relations with different audiences:

They [organizations] must enunciate and maintain relations to their members through membership negotiation, to themselves as formally controlled entities through self-structuring, to their internal subgroups and processes through activity coordination, and to their colleagues in a society of institutions through institutional positioning. (McPhee and Zaug 2000, 1).

Fig. 7: Four Flows Theory (McPhee and Zaug 2000).8

If we consider this theory in the context of multilingual organizations, we can infer that: (1) institutional communication includes different types of interactions that require a variety of documents with different “status”; which, in turn, results in a (2) hierarchy of documentary sources; (3) since communication is a “shaping factor”, the language used in a particular organization carries distinctive characteristics proper of its identity; (4) combined with this diversity of interactions, multilinguism in institutional settings entail an enormous workload for translators, and therefore, the need to maximize efficiency. Additionally, multilingual communication often entails (5) language asymmetry. According to Muñoz y Valdivieso (2002), some languages enjoy a higher status within organizations, notably English. It is widely known that English functions as a sort of lingua franca during negotiations, conferences and even internal correspondence. This last point is particularly important because one of the major oppositions from translators to MT is that it is said to encourage literal translation, benefitting source language (often English) structures and form over the target language.

8 Image retrieved from, Wikimedia Commons, the 10/04/2015 (13:47)

The first and second point are closely related: because of the organization’s limited time and resources, documents with a higher “value” will go through a more careful translation and editing process than documents with a lower value.

Consequently, the later might have stylistic, terminological and grammar problems.

Translators need to take this into account when consulting the organization’s translation memories, as this tools do not filter texts by quality. There are some ways in which organizations can deal with this issue, such as creating filters by date (texts added or modified after a certain date) or name (texts added or modified by certain users, e.g. revisers.9), and then adding cleaned texts with the values defined on those filters. In this way, the tool can rely on the available filters to recognize the texts we want to use. The previous example describes a rather superficial solution; however, going deep into this subject will take us far from our main topic. If the organization uses, or plans to use, a SMT customizable engine (see section 3.2.2.), using low quality corpora (e.g. one presenting high inconsistency in the translation of terms) for the training will most likely affect the performance of the engine.

The third point introduces the concept of institutional identity. Broadly speaking, this means that institutional messages express the voice of particular institutions, which can even be reflected in its own variety of a language. For example, the so-called eurotalk, refers to the variety of a language (English, Spanish, French, etc.) used in the European Union (EU), which does not respond to the variety of any particular region, but to the needs and peculiarities of the organization (Wager, Bech y Martinez 2002). In the case of the United Nations, some authors have stated that translation in the context of the UN constitutes a separate field of specialized translation, due to the particular characteristics and demands that derivate from the special nature of international diplomacy (Cao & Zhao 2008). It could be argued that the last observation is also true for other international organizations that might not strictly belong to the United Nations. From the point of view of translators, it means that they have to respect those peculiarities and follow certain conventions that affect their choices. Consequently, translating in

9Revisers do not normally add texts to the organization’s text bases; their names can, however, appear in term bases or glossaries to mark “correct” or “preferred translations”, especially when there are several available translations and the organization does not have time or resources to clean the bases. Additionally, the person in charge of CAT tools can create a mock user name like “edited text” to mark good quality texts produced by senior revisers.

institutional contexts often calls for a whole new training and adaptation process for many translators. The daily work of institutional translators involves the use of CAT tools, which help them make informed decisions on aspects of general language that might vary within the organization.

The fourth point is particularly important, as high volumes of work imply the need for effective administration and project management, as well as for the minimization of time and effort to take on a higher workload. For example, in a short presentation by the Directorate-General for translation (DG Translation)10 of the European Commission, it was stated that, during 2013, over two million pages were translated by 1700 translators working for the European Commission. However, it was pointed out that the Commission would in fact need to translate almost 6.8 million documents a year for its webpage ( to be fully multilingual, this without taking user generated content into account.

The purpose of this section was not to provide a detailed explanation of organizational communication (which is a complex field in itself) or institutional translation, but rather to establish some grounds and list some of its main characteristics that will help us to understand the place of MT in the institutional context.

Dans le document Evaluation of Statistical Machine Translation Engines in the Context of International Organizations (Page 31-34)