What does a turntable stylus have to do with translation? A lot, actually. Let me start with a small identification issue I recently ran with one of my cartridges.
Breaking off my usual discussions on translation, I’m sharing now a bit of vinyl addiction by posting a short blurb and pictures of a used cartridge I purchased: black body, red needle cap, weird connection pins, made in Japan:
The cartridge with the red cap looks like an expensive Goldring Elektra, but it’s actually a Red Ed custom cart (short for cartridge) manufactured in Switzerland.
The needle or stylus looks like an ordinary pin for untrained eyes. We place the vinyl record on our turntable, lift up the pickup or tonearm and place the needle on whatever song we want to listen to. As far as we know, the needle is just a thin pin that runs the record grooves and, by the magic of electricity and magnetism, reproduces wonderful sounds to us.
So, why are there so many cartridges and styli (needles) selling for as little as $25 and for as much as $5,000? And where’s the parallel or comparison with translation?
I’m getting to that, so bear with me. Translators are like turntable needles: they all look like much the same: French, Arabic, Spanish or Japanese translators, they just decode English texts and code them in their own language by some sort of magic. And voilá, foreign language words, like an exotic song, appear written on paper or screen. If a translator uses health care instead of care or healthcare, who cares, right?
Chances are you and I grew up listening to vinyl records on a Philco or other budget equipment. To make it family friendly, manufacturers used entry-level needles and other parts. If you were an audio pro back then, you would have shelled out the big bucks (hundreds of dollars, even thousands) to buy top-of-the-line tables, arms, carts and needles. If you have heard the same concert, say, Brandenburg II, with the same budget equipment year in and year out, you might think your recording is the best…until someone shares a multichannel recording on a Bang & Olufsen equipment or a Technics turntable for you to have a listen.
A good record deserves the time it takes to be listened to. Same thing with a good translation: it takes the right mediator (the translator) and the right equipment to write a translation that will serve you not just for today or for this month, but for as long as your user needs it.