I train translators, interpreters and bilingual personnel. As such, cultural competency is at the root of our profession, where we transfer content from one language into another, either verbally or in writing. In that context, I stress my alignment with the thought that we humans STILL today function under a “Tribal Mentality“. This Tribal Mentality is a trait that was extremely useful for the development of the species, but which should have become progressively obsolete in the 21st Century. But that has not happened yet, or at least not to the level that our presumably civilized society should require .
Such Tribal Mentality is, in my opinion, one of the largest triggers of conflicts, wars, hatred, and injustice. The “us” Vs. “them” mentality is an “inherent” and “inherited” trait that today prevents our growth as human beings in our interconnected, multicultural world. We must therefore consciously work to expose this trait, if we want to overcome it one day. There are very strong underpinnings of thought and subconscious beliefs, attitudes and feelings that are reflected in our Tribal Mentality, many of which are indeed taught to us by our childhood tribes: family, school, neighborhood, church and the like, to ensure their own continued existence.
Since Culture represents the “models” of things we have in our mind (how we perceive the world, relate with it, interpret things, and even understand ourselves), the fundamentals of Culture may be found in the collective programming of our minds, which differentiate the members of one group of people from another. We are of different races and many ethnicities, different genders, social classes, nationalities, and religions. We have thousands of mother languages. We have huge ideological differences and if we were to talk about something like politics or religion, we might end on opposite sides of the discussion. Some of us might have beliefs and behaviors that are totally unacceptable to others. And yet, when we go out into the world and have to relate with each other, we must find common traits that unite us. Or we must understand the sources of our differences and the origin of our thoughts and our “gut feelings” about others.
What is it about our mind that makes us believe so strongly in the “right” and “wrong” of categories such as race, gender and ethnicity? Why do we feel kinship towards some groups of people and aversion towards others? Why do we sort everything into groups, or kinds of things or events? The answer is that we are “hardwired” to associate in categories. Like computers, that is the “software” we are born with. By default. Our nervous system is predisposed to organize perceptions into groups. This is at the core of one of the fundamentals of humanity: We mostly think in terms of WE vs. THEM (“we” the xyz Vs. “them” the abc — fill in the blank with anything and you will find “opposing” groups we could come up with). As noted earlier, this at the center of most religious conflicts, political adversities, and most rivalries. It is at the core of the concepts of country and culture.
Concepts that denote “my” group or “my” religion or “my” race or “my” country are the true root causes of an incredibly large proportion of conflicts in societies past and present, where mostly one group believes that their “my” is better than the other group’s “my” (known as “their” position). Now then, these issues exist because a long time ago, the Tribal Mind was vital for our survival, because we were surrounded by wild animals and needed to hunt, so group identification and cohesion was important for survival.
But by carrying these thought processes into the 21st Century, what are we really “preserving”? Whose thoughts are we expressing, provided to us in our formative years and remaining with us without challenge? How can we overcome this hardwired structure of thinking in terms of “my” tribes and choose our own way of processing our perceptions?
Our Tribal Mentality should progressively start to serve no purpose in the world of tomorrow – which is already here today. In our Global Village, we need to consciously reflect on our responsibility of owning the US-Vs-THEM concept instead of allowing it to dictated our way of seeing the world. Much of “common sense” is actually totally contrary to nature; for example, in the past, slavery was “natural”; and it was “normal” for women to be the property of their husbands; and more recently, only heterosexuals deserved “respect”. All these concepts were created at one point in history to preserve the “superior” position of a group over another, and later became a prevalent attitude (with corresponding actions) among large groups of people or, as I like to call it, large tribes.
Therefore, in our Global Village of the 21st Century, where our Tribes should be much more homogeneous, in many ways the Tribes have multiplied and have become more aggressive and “territorial”. How many of the “common sense” thoughts and attitudes we hold today as dear are really outdated, unjustified, unfair, and detrimental to our relationships as human beings? How much of our Tribal Mentality is simply wrong? Culture is in essence how we “perceive” our world and how the world “perceives” us. How much of our Cultural perception needs to be revamped?
Remember that our perceptions are hardwired as part of our Tribal Mentality, which is fostered and fed in our earlier years by our family tribe, our religious tribe, our neighborhood tribe, our school tribe, our social-class tribe, our race and ethnicity tribes, our country-of-origin tribe, our language tribe, our gender “ tribe… Each of these tribes is interested in its own survival and thus, in time creates a series of concepts that transcend reality and which serve to define that tribe in society. How many of these concepts do we carry as truths that we never even question, that we are not even aware we have in the background of our mind? Remember it is kind of the “software” that we came into life with by default, which keeps running “in the background” of our heads unless we “update” it to the new values and concepts that we may develop on our own.
Because there are, of course, other tribes we “subscribe” to, either personally or professionally, voluntarily or forced by circumstances, such as our higher education tribes (university students, for example); trade and business tribes (associations, clubs, coalitions, corporations, and the like); country-of-residence “tribe”; social class tribes (chosen in adulthood); technological tribes (user of landlines Vs. smartphones, for example); our secondary languages tribes, our age tribes (Veterans, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z), and even the tribes we associate to on the basis of our personality types (Extroverts vs Introverts, etc).
The Tribal Mentality tells the members of that tribe what is and what is not possible within the structure of their reality. Since it ensures the survival of the respective group, it strongly imposes values, rituals, symbols, heroes and shared memories to promote group identification and thus loyalty to the “tribe”. In today’s world, the purpose of the Tribal Mentality is no other than to “indoctrinate” each member of that specific tribe on the tribe’s beliefs and rules, to make sure that ALL members of the tribe believe, and agree, and behave accordingly.
There are many other tribes besides those mentioned above, to which we belong by birth, by choice, or by circumstances. What is important is to start understanding and identifying the different tribes that are influencing our “perception” of our reality. Once you start identifying this, you will be able to understand your world much better, and then make your own choices about your own thoughts and actions.
I recently read that “utility is valued over eloquence as a measure of translation quality” by some of the big companies entering the translation and interpreting field (Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation). If this is the new industry trend, in the future, “quality” will just be a “value added” sought by some few companies. This new industry concept of “utility” being more important than “eloquence” (which to date has been our measure of quality) will totally change the roles of the players in this industry, and that includes us, translators and interpreters. We have to be aware of the changes occurring in the industry if we want to remain being relevant. Any change we want (or want to avoid), it is up to us to fight for it. So, in this fast pace world of the 21st Century, “instant” is the concept of choice in service provision, and based on this, huge companies like Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation are penetrating the translation and interpreting industry and having initial success at doing so. The final products of course are years away, but the trend has certainly started. The future is here. There is no such thing as “it will not happen”. It is happening. Translators are being replaced by machine translation at an alarming speed. Those translators that fail to see the trend will be left without a job in a matter of a decade. Post-MT editing is strongly becoming the trend in the “normal” industry and now, with this latest concept-change of utility vs. eloquence, the trend will change faster than ever as machine translation becomes more and more common, easier to access and “acceptable” in terms of its output. What I am reading here is that more and more the end-receivers of translation products are accepting a mediocre product provided it is fast (machine-translation produced) and relatively accurate (yet to be accomplished but fast on the way to get there). So, people will not care about construction of the sentences or grammar or inherent meaning of the source language. They will just want to get the “general idea” and that is all they want. Well, at least a large portion of the buyers of translation services. Of course there will be many large companies out there that will still strive for quality. But if the extraordinary growth of machine translation resources is any evidence of the exponential improvement in quality in the past decade, I can only guess that indeed, quality translation, can be achieved in one or two decades with machine translation. Yes, I know this is a blasphemy. But it is reality. I was one of those who thought 15 years ago this day will never come. Well, it is here. So, let’s face reality. The future of the translation industry is being taken over by the big software companies that are creating the software capable of penetrating the “magic” of translation. Once they get there, it will be like any other industry of the 19th century. Replicate replicate replicate. We, the original translators, must become very active in designing the strategies for our own future. What is the profession going to look like in 20 years? We have to start answering that question from a perspective of the current reality and not from the perspective of what would we ideally feel like it should. Should does not work any more. Could is here to stay. We need to wake up to reality as a profession and set out to design our future in the world.
What is “CLAS”? Read my blog post at ProZ.com Translator T.O.
Guest blog post at ProZ.com Translator T.O.
CLAS is the acronym for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services. The term was originally born from the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the United States, CLAS Standards for healthcare fall within varying levels of stringency, including federal mandates, general guidelines, and recommendations in three frameworks: Culturally Competent Care, Language Access Services, and Organizational Supports for Cultural Competency.
Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services, CLAS, encompasses a group of policies, behaviors and attitudes that allow professionals, companies, and government agencies to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. CLAS also refers to services that are respectful of the beliefs and practices of diverse populations and are responsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of those individuals, requiring workforce and providers to acquire or enhance their ability to understand and respond effectively to multicultural clients and patients.
Although initially CLAS referred to the healthcare industry in America, the concept has acquired a much wider application and has been adopted, adapted and localized by other countries and by many government agencies throughout the world. Additionally, similar standards have been adopted by others in the public and private sectors, including the legal environment, the educational establishment, financial services and the business world in general.
Next Tuesday, August 23, you will be able to learn more about CLAS and other Healthcare Standards in the Global Village of the 21st Century. Register at http://www.proz.com/translator-training/topic/Interpreting