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Interview with Matthieu Leblanc of the Université de Moncton

Published by info@crtl.ca on 2013-01-21

Matthieu LeBlanc is an associate professor in the Département de traduction et des langues  at the Université de Moncton. He was head of the department from July 1, 2008, to December 31, 2011. He teaches introduction to translation, general translation, specialized translation, revision, writing, difficulties in French, and comparative stylistics.



(Interview translated from French)


1-      What particular interests do you have in the study of language technologies?


A. I am especially interested in the interaction between humans and language technologies. Of course I am interested in the technologies themselves, given their importance in the field of translation and the progress that has been made in this field in recent years. Professional translators—like all language professionals—today have access to a range of tools that not only increase their individual productivity and make their work easier, but also give them prompt access to the information they are looking for. These are huge changes. But what I’m really interested in are human–technology interactions, especially what users have to say about technologies and their use. As we know, even in the “best of cases,” not everything is perfect.


2-      Can you tell us about the challenges that language technologies pose in the workplace today? You often talk about the importance of the user in the use of language technologies. Can you tell us more?


A. As I see it, there are many challenges. Nevertheless, there are also many opportunities. What we need, in my opinion, is greater dialogue between those who design tools, language professionals (the users), and managers of translation services and companies. We must try to answer certain questions while keeping in mind the needs of translation companies and services, clients, and of course users. For example, do technologies allow translators to do their work better? Do they have an effect—either positive or negative—on their productivity and on the quality of the finished product? Are translators as professionals still in charge of their texts? Is there in some cases a loss of autonomy or control over the process? Do the commercial practices that followed the implementation of certain technologies take the users’ needs into account? Have translators received adequate training in this area? These are questions we need to ask. Dialogue is essential.


3-      Tell us about your current project, “Traduction, technologie et statut du traducteur” Translation, technology, and the translator’s status.


A. This is a research project I started in January 2012, but its origin goes back to 2007, when, together with a fellow researcher, I had the opportunity to do research within a large Canadian translation agency. That was when I realized how much translators’ work had changed since the early 2000s, and especially how certain language technologies had become such a big part of the process of translation. I also realized how much translators’ tasks had been reduced to certain very specific operations, which were different from the ones they did before. This is what led me to look further into the subject.


In my research project, which has the working title “Traduction, technologie et statut du traducteur”, I am trying to find out if, in certain workplaces, the widespread use of translation tools can have an effect on translators’ work, on their professional satisfaction, and finally on their professional status. This is a broad topic, and one that’s easy to theorize, but in my opinion it’s a topic that, among others (such as productivity demands, the conditions of text production, and rates), is of utmost importance.


For my research needs, I focussed on translation memories, since they are the most widely used tool on the market and the one that receives the most praise and criticism. I decided to go out into the field to see what was happening in real life, in the work world. I had the chance to spend a total of three months with three different translation services and agencies, all of them in Canada. I employed an ethnographic approach, the goal being to collect as much field data as possible on translators’ work, the tools they have access to, the interaction between translators and their tools (especially translation memories), the translation process, text handling, working conditions, client relations, management, etc.


In all, I spent more than 300 hours in workplaces and conducted more than 50 semi-directed interviews with translators, revisers, and managers. I also conducted more than 20 observation sessions with translators in their work environment, which gave me a fairly clear idea of how they use translation tools, in particular translation memories, and especially what they had to say about them (positive comments, but also less positive ones). In my opinion, we too rarely give voice to translators, the main users of these tools—yet they have both interesting and relevant things to say!


At this point I completed an analysis of the data. I have had the opportunity to present the results of my research a few times since then (colloquiums and conferences), and I have just submitted two texts for publication. Of course, I plan to continue my analysis and research in this direction. I am now interested in the changes to commercial and administrative practices that followed large-scale implementation of translation memories. In other words, there is a tendency to severely criticize the technologies themselves (their design, their limitations, etc.). However, I have noticed that often, it is not necessarily (or only) the technologies that are at fault, but rather (and especially?) the practices that have followed their implementation, that is, the practices—or the ways of doing things—that are imposed upon translators and that, in some cases, may lead to some loss of decision-making power and professional autonomy. These are significant topics for the profession, in my opinion.


4-      How has working in Moncton, in a Francophone-minority environment, been beneficial for your research?


R. Besides my research on language technologies and the translator’s status, which belongs to translation studies, I also conduct research in the field of sociolinguistics. I was particularly interested in Francophones in minority situations, especially in Acadia. The Moncton region, like the entire south-east of New Brunswick in fact, is rich in opportunities for studying language contact, representations of linguistic ideologies, linguistic insecurity, language planning, etc. Working in Moncton gave me the opportunity, among other things, to conduct sociolinguistic research in workplaces with a Francophone minority(as well as Anglophone majority)—research that led to a doctoral thesis in sociolinguistics with the title “Pratiques langagières et bilinguisme dans la fonction publique fédérale canadienne : le cas d’un milieu de travail bilingue en Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick” (Language practices and bilingualism in the Canadian federal public service: the case of a bilingual workplace in Acadia in New Brunswick) (defended in 2008). In this study, I aimed to discover how linguistic representations—or the images people have of their own language and the language of others—can influence the language practices of individuals and how they allow us to better understand the sociolinguistic dynamics of this workplace. In this thesis, I also highlighted the shortcomings of Canadian language policy and the issues that subsist for the Francophone minority community.





Matthieu LeBlanc, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Département de traduction et des langues

Faculté des arts et des sciences sociales

Université de Moncton

Moncton (New Brunswick)  E1A 3E9