|Index of Articles by K. Ö.||Koral Özgül's Website||SDL Trados Home|
An Essay about
PROBLEMS IN THE
INVOLVED WITH TURKISH LANGUAGE
by Koral Özgül
A question to start with:
Why It's Hard to Find Good Translators/Reviewers for Turkish
This is a very large country with 80+ million population, a "young" (which is often the opposite of "experienced" and "competent") population with a high rate of population increase, way beyond the rates in the Western world. This causes a high surplus on human workforce, which in turn results in too many people that are willing to do translation/localization jobs (as with any other job and profession). Most of these people are actually not to be considered as real translators at all. A mere goodwill, effort and willingness to work wouldn't suffice at all to do something as it should be done. It certainly requires some degree of education (which is very poor and scarce in the country, so that only a minority who are either rich or lucky can benefit from) or self-education (where the ready resources, means and institutional opportunities are scarce as well) and experience.
(Unqualified) Workforce Surplus
But that much surplus supply in workforce also causes the prices/rates of the (so called) translators to terribly decrease because of the nature of competition and supply & demand dynamics. In these circumstances of the industry, a really qualified translator (that's me, without feeling the need to be humble, LOL) finds himself/herself in a difficult situation, as he/she is often underpaid for his/her qualities, experience and meticulousness. The Turkish translator can often claim 1/5 to 1/2 (at best) of the rates in Europe for comparison; even 1/10 in some cases.
Life is Hard(er in Turkey)
As if this isn't enough already, we also are kind of a "poor" country. Though having wonderful natural and other resources in excess, the industrial development rate still cannot cope with the ever increasing population, in a helpless struggle. Add the political games of the US and major European actors with fresh subconscious colonialist memories (to the extend of conspiracy theories if you wish) to the ingredients. And the country is hardly able to make a considerable progress with the time passing.
This in turn causes the oil prices for example to stay at a many multitude of the oil prices in US and Europe, we must pay 81$ in average for Internet access, where it's 11$ in Denmark and only 3.2$ in USA... And note that this is not for the same quality of service at all, but France has 20x, Japan has almost 100x more speed and bandwidth than Turkey in average!
 Figures given are based on 2007 prices and speeds. There has been a delayed, insufficient, yet promising competitive series of improvements in the late 2008.
Earn Little, Pay High
In short, the Turkish translator can earn low, but must pay much higher for any commodities and services that are imported (one segment of which is everything about computer, by the way; and people wonder why software piracy is so common in some countries!).
These economic and demographic facts are one face of the problem.
In my opinion, also the factor of the cultural/folkloric base, the way of seeing things and living life, plays a role in potential problems with the language processing into/from Turkish. My observation may be highly personal and subjective, and it may not be scientific at all. But I'll still dare to outline it, in order to hint some simple and short clues, with the risk of being oversimplifying and overly generalizing.
Western versus Eastern
Western approach (Mediterranean and Balkan countries excluded to some extend) to the life, world and beyond, to reason & mind, to feelings, to relationships etc. as well as to many major concepts in social life (such as democracy) basically (and sometimes greatly) differs from those of Eastern approach. For example, E. man is flexible and adaptive, where W. man toggles between tolerance (preserving ones own position) and coercive (not to say fierce or violent) persistence.
I often conceptualize these two cultural spheres as comparable to Yin versus Yang, day versus night, male (Western) versus female (Eastern) elements. Both have their pros and cons. But you have to know them in order to experience the "good" sides and beware of the "bad" sides of both, or you easily can get in situations of communication, confidence and trust crisis during a collaboration.
To give an actual relevant example of a review/QA work, a "normal" Turkish reviewer most probably either would hesitate to cause (even indirectly) any harm to a translator by clearly exposing his faults, or maybe would contrarily push subjectively with pseudo-criticism if they have a negative personal encounter from the past. This is because relationships are everything for an Eastern man; often more important than "reality/truth", "independence/objectiveness" and "individuality/privacy". (I'm somehow rather very "German" in this sense.)
Yet another aspect of the problem complex is the cultural and historical facts, which is a very comprehensive subject to sociological studies. These wouldn't possibly fit into a short summary like this. I'll try to briefly outline the causes and results of historical nature.
Turkey had a metamorphosis from Ottoman Empire into the Turkish Republic through a very rapid transition (through the Kemalist revolution and the war). The Westernist, nationalist, Islamist and other social forces played complex roles thereby.
The language itself was (is) a very compound one due to the extensive cultural exchanges on the vast lands the empire was ruling. Essentially, European (basically French and Italian), Arabic, Farsi (Persian) and Turkish (here, I mean the "true" Turkish as of the Turkomans' in the Central Asia) languages have been mixed and incorporated into one language, which was practically called Turkish (in broad sense). Besides, the Turkic languages and Arabic/Farsi have very different grammar structures, due to the fact that they belong to whole different language families. That's why this language has an extraordinarily complex structure, and is hard to manage correctly.
The Kemalist revolution has also abolished the Arabic alphabet and writing and adopted the Latin alphabet instead. Not to deny the many advantages of this development in sense of ease of universal communication in the modern world, but it certainly had another effect too: The younger generations of the republic have lost their memories about how their language was originally written, read and spelled (for about 600 years long). They have also lost all their connection to the whole bunch of written/printed material until then, and had to begin from scratch to read and write with a whole new alphabet. This trauma has left considerable impacts of cultural recession on the society, which is often virtually overlooked.
In short, on the course of social, political and militaristic historical events, different sorts of Turkish have emerged.
1. Now, there is an approach that was imposed by the militaristic, authoritarian and independentist (though also Westernist) tradition, where the Islamist and imperial style is declined, and the language is tried to be "purified" by eliminating/avoiding words with Arabic/Farsi as well as French origin and trying to substitute them with Turkic-Turkish words.
2. There are versions of this approach extending to nationalistic Pan-Turkism level.
3. There are also several counter-versions of the former, including the Ottomanist, old style, Arabic/Farsi-inclined traditional language (including legal jargon) and religious tinted language.
4. Also, modern bourgeois, industrial and academic, elitist languages are prevalent in art, science and academic fields, where European influence is welcome.
5. Not to forget different industrial jargons, where deep European influence is common as well, due to the nature of the dynamics: Technology brings along with its own language.
People with tendency to one of these basic veins dislike, ostracize, and even (intellectually) fight against each other. They may perceive and advertise the others as being "wrong"! There is a constant struggle on Turkish language, what it is, what it should be.
My personal opinion and approach is to combine all in one, and always keep the potential target audiences in mind. I'll use the language that the end-user will like and understand most. For me, the usability of the product is above everything. No other political or cultural "principle" should hinder this. I consider language as a living organism, changing and developing on the way of actual daily life, as a constant product of human relationships. The "owner" of language is not a certain political aspect, not a certain circle of people, not any institution or whatsoever. It belongs to a whole society. Thus, no manipulation can ever be reasonable in my opinion. It should be just analyzed and studied, instead of trying to control it. Trying to purify a language often does nothing but only "poorifies" it!
A Whole Different Story - Language Structure
This entire (economic/social/cultural/historical) complex together constitute one side of the potential problems. The last but not least significant component lies in the very structure and mentality of the LANGUAGE itself. If you could take a look at my article in ProZ.com (THINKING IN ENGLISH, SPEAKING LOCALIZED), you'll have an idea about why TRANSLATION doesn't mean the same thing at all for European languages and Turkish, and that they technically involve radically different requirements to be handled.
Koral Özgül, Istanbul, 2008