Creating an electronic journal: opportunities and challenges. The story of Jostrans, The Journal of Specialised Translation
Jostrans, The Journal of Specialised Translation (www.jostrans.org) came to existence in January 2004. It is a peer-reviewed, bi-annual, internet publication and its fifth issue will be published in January 2006. The aim of this paper is to introduce it in the context of existing electronic publications and to outline the main opportunities and challenges encountered in running it.
The number of electronic publications in the field of translation is relatively low, if we compare it to other disciplines. Medical e-journals, for example, are published in huge numbers by comparison. In order to put Jostrans in the context of other electronic publications in Translation Studies and other related fields, a few quantitative results have been drawn from the list of translation publications available on the Geneva Ecole de Traduction et d’Interprétation library database. If we include areas such as linguistics and multilingual current affairs publications, such as Le Monde Diplomatique, about eighty e-journals that are significant on the international Translation Studies scene are listed. Although the list is not exhaustive, it does reflect the Translation Studies electronic landscape. From this selection of eighty journals, around half are exclusively electronic journals. The rest also offer a paper version of their issues, or may offer an electronic supplement.
Electronic publications in translation, linguistics and their related areas are primarily monolingual. From the list chosen, over fifty journals are monolingual, mostly published in English by non-English native speakers. A few journals, mainly Canadian and Spanish are bilingual, a dozen are multilingual. Multilingual publications are not always the ones we might expect. For example, the Journal of Arabic and Islamic studies encourages authors to write not only in English and Arabic but in a wide range of European Languages. In many instances, contributors’ guidelines do not specify the language of use, English being assumed, which may seem surprising in a multilingual, intercultural and interdisciplinary context. The Journal of Intercultural Communication and the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development for instance, state no policy on language use. As regards genre, 80% of online publications listed are journals, the rest are newsletters, information bulletins or texts integrated within an interactive site.
Many e-publications explore possibilities which are still new to the publishing world in a creative and stimulating manner. This is not specific to, but reflected in Translation Studies. The main exploratory outputs concerns modes of publications. ‘Gradual’ modes of publication, where documents are brought out regularly on the website, and not as part of monthly, bi-monthly or bi-annual publication are used to encourage readers and viewers to visit the site regularly as not only articles, but perhaps also information lists and other details, including links to related sites, are frequently updated. ‘Grey literature’, that is, in this context, articles which have not been peer-reviewed, is also included, as space limitations are not an issue in e-publishing. Another advantage of electronic publishing is that it allows an unprecedented archives and search potential. E-journals make the most these opportunities by creating electronic search facilities. At macro-level, electronic library services such as Ingenta Connect make huge corpora in Translation Studies available to readers instantly. Interactive developments are expanding in e-publishing, but are very slow to develop in Translation Studies. Interactive translation forums and directories such as Proz.com are moving in this direction, but translation journals tend to remain quite reluctant to explore interactive forms of communications.
Having discussed the context of e-publishing in Translation Studies, we shall now concentrate on Jostrans, The Journal of Specialised Translation. First, we shall summarize its editorial policies and content. Second, the main challenges encountered will be explored and future developments considered.
Jostrans aims to provide a forum for translators, interpreters and researchers, disseminating information, exchanging ideas and providing a dedicated outlet for research in specialised, non-literary translation. Led by a team of internationally recognised scholars (among whom Daniel Gile, Jeremy Munday, Peter Newmark, Anthony Pym, Christina Schäffner and Jorge Díaz-Cintas), the journal promotes an integrative approach in three main respects:
First, it has a multilingual mission. Much is said about multilingualism, but as a recent study shows, it is still primarily “a consequence of processes of migration and minorisation” (Extra and Yağmur, 2004: 25). In about half of the countries of the world, over fifty languages are spoken (Ethnologue Country Index). Yet, in contrast to this multilingual presence, English is dominating the publication world. This has two main consequences: most non-native English speakers are required to publish in English. This is not only linguistically challenging. It also puts these authors under pressure to consider topics essentially relevant to an English-speaking readership. In addition, most publications are translated from English, English being the most culturally and politically prominent language (Unesco)2. Jostrans wants to make it possible for writers to write in their native tongue and wants to encourage diverse points of view in publishing articles from a range of linguistic and cultural sources.
Second, Jostrans is focused on non-literary translation, an extremely large area which deals with pragmatic texts, that is texts “of generally immediate, short-term use, which imparts some information of a general nature or specific to a domain and for which aesthetics play a secondary role.” As pragmatic texts are considered to comprise “some 90% the translations created in the world today”1, (Delisle et al. 1999: 169-170) the scope is huge. We have received articles on topics ranging from the terminology of Buddhism to the history of Trados. We are keen to consider intracultural and intercultural questions relating to non-literary translation. Claude Bédard (1980), in his seminal work on technical translation, exposed the triple myth of scientific language used in seemingly uniform, well established and well structured ways. Cultural issues, as localisation has proved, are visible in the most technical of texts and have not yet been given the importance and attention which they deserve in non-literary translation. This means exploring theories in fields which have mostly so far been explored nearly exclusively in literature or cultural studies (such as postcolonial writing). It also means investigating how languages in non-literary environments show their lack of uniformity and express their diversity. In other words, considering issues which relate to the interpretation of a source discourse and the construction of a target discourse through the influence of cultural, social and political frameworks. Thanks to its electronic format the journal is also flexible as regards space and accessibility, which means that a wide range of point of views, both through peer-reviewed contributions and informal feedback can be exchanged.
Third, non-literary translation is inseparable from an inter/multidisciplinary context. We have already emphasised the variety of sources present in the conceptual framework used by researchers in translation. The interdisciplinary nature of non-literary translation is evident in the range of topics that the text contents, text types and text forms provide: from tourist guides to technical brochures, from scientific papers to medical reports, the range is huge. The debate concerning whether an ideal translator is primarily a subject specialist or a trained linguist (Paul Wijnands, 2001) is still open. The wide influence that each discipline has on how texts are transferred, on the norms and conventions used (or transgressed) has barely been studied in relation to non-literary translation. Since it is an electronic journal, Jostrans endeavours to feed from and recount this wealth of subjects not only through the traditional publication of articles but also through other features made possible by electronic means. Jostrans is thus hoping to contribute to close the gap between academia and professionals in the industry, providing scholarly articles as well as a forum for exchange and information.
On paper, it may seem straightforward to prioritise these three integrative aspects, but many challenges have emerged as the journal was created and are emerging as it evolves. These challenges can be grouped in four categories although they are interlinked. They concern editorial decisions, content, technical matters and finance.
The decision to have a large editorial board was taken with the aim of building a widely consultative, collaborative, multinational team. The variety of communication modes widely available makes it possible to exchange ideas and to collaborate from the four corners of the globe. In practice though, organising videoconference sessions has not been possible and our team has remained largely Eurocentric. We have found quite difficult to involve practitioners and academics from smaller or non European countries, although there is a strong Canadian presence in Jostrans. Involving members electronically and implementing their suggestions or decisions fairly can also be a challenge. All participants live in different geographical locations, and it has been difficult to build a collaborative relationships between participants. Nevertheless, after three years of editorial life, a core of active members is formed, and a sense of direction, trust and partnership is now present.
From a linguistic point of view, relatively few contributors choose to publish their article in a minority tongue. We thought that more authors would take the opportunity to write an article in their native tongue and have it, or at least its abstract, translated into English. We expected more difficulties concerning finding peer-reviewers in minority languages. So far, this has proved to be a reasonable (and enjoyable) task, partly because of our academic contacts throughout the world, partly because it has not be overwhelming, the majority of non-English speaking contributors wanting to write in English. In particular, academics are more highly rated in their country of origin for writing in English and often prefer to do so. This means that our English editors have to revise and style edit quite a large number of articles, as the contributions are not always of a good enough standard linguistically. The borderline between English facilitating communication as a lingua franca and English as a language of power damaging to diversity is thin and delicate. To close this paragraph on editorial decisions, we shall briefly consider the question of quality vs quantity. One the most remarkable advantages of electronic publishing is the lack of space limitation. This is very useful as regards the multilingual policy discussed above, but raises the issue of how much text could or should be included. Is relevant grey literature desirable as a source of information? So far we have not included it, but this decision may be revised. It was decided to not publish thematic issues, or at least not exclusively thematic, as the strong point of Jostrans is to circulate articles and information of interest without the usual publication delays. Non-literary translation covers an immense area, and the publication output of the journal may be sometimes eclectic, but we wish to leave the door open for interesting articles to be published rapidly, which few publications allow.
Technically, there is a lot of scope for future growth, but Jostrans has developed considerably. Two key persons are in charge of the journal, the webmaster Andy Walker (although the site was initially developed by Charles McBride) and Robin Scobey, looking after streaming developments. Miguel Bernal has just joined the team. We strongly believe that an electronic publication should not just be a print journal transferred to a website, but should use and strengthen opportunities offered by technology. Within our limited means, we have endeavoured to do so, updating events calendars and using comments received from readers electronically as well as the data on readers which is available electronically to shape the future of the journal. An average of forty-two readers a day are currently accessing the journal, and from the information provided by our provider, they are browsing through the journal, not only stumbling on the home page and quitting. We have been providing streamed interviews of professionals in translation and translation studies. These features play an important role in filling the gap between academics and practitioners and allow us to provide something quite unique in the translation publication world. We encounter problems weekly of course. These can generally be solved with time and adequate financing, which is the subject of our next paragraph.
A crucial aspect of a journal is its financing. Jostrans is no exception. Finding resources for a creative enterprise is an art. It requires time, useful contacts and imagination. Currently, the publishing world in Translation Studies seems to be essentially financed in three ways: through private sponsorship (The Translation Journal at http://accurapid.com/journal/); through a publishing company (the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development at http://www.multilingual-matters.net/jmmd/default.htm, which is part of the Multilingual Matters output); through subscriptions only or in conjunction with academic subsidies. Jostrans has so far been financed by academia, indirectly through funds which had been gained through income generating ventures. It has also benefited from the generosity of professionals in Translation Studies who have contributed, with unfailing support, expert advice and original articles. Initially, the editorial board agreed to offer the journal free on a trial period of two years. We are reaching the end of this period now and decisions need to be made regarding further funding. Having some independence is crucial and we are exploring ways of obtaining funds while developing this independence, for example through the publications of conference proceedings, the organisation of conferences…. We would like if possible to retain the free accessibility of the journal, as it plays an essential role in providing information and exchange within the translation community, but we may have to implement a subscription system. The journal has been set up in what can be considered an idealistic but truly open and transparent manner. It does belong to the translation community and is shaped by its needs. It does not ‘belong’ to an institution or a group of individuals, even though it is supported by both.
What of the future then? Our fifth issue will be centered around audiovisual matters. We would like to provide semi-thematic issues on a more regular basis, organised with one thematic part, one part left to a range of subjects. Training and revision are the next key issues to be explored. Guest editorship were considered at our last board meeting and have now been adopted. They endorse our collaborative, open policy. We are also planning to use our academic network for further collaborative programme. In the first issue of Jostrans, Peter Newmark stated that “No profession is as divided as that of translation”. In transferring information, translators and interpreters communicate with their readership and audience. But they also create texts which mirror the state of the world: conflicts, contradictions, along with cooperative ventures. We know now that Darwin was wrong: survival is not the only fuel of evolution. Mutual aid is also indispensable. There is no competition without cooperation. It is up to us whether we turn our differences into division, whether we consider knowledge primarily as power to be seized or as information to be shared. The aim of a publication like Jostrans obviously seeks to foster the second. The electronic tools which are at our disposal allow us new forms of communication. Let us use them.
Bédard, Claude, (1980), La Traduction technique. Principes et pratiques, Montréal, Linguatech.
Delisle, Jean, Lee-Jahnke, Hannelore and Cormier, Monique C. (eds.), 1999, Translation Terminology, Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins
Extra, Guus and Yağmur, Kutlay, (eds.), (2004), Urban Mutlilingualism in Europe, Immigrant Minority Languages at Home and School, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters.
Newmark, Peter, “Non-literary in the Light of Literary Translation” in Jostrans, Issue 1
Wijnands, Paul, (2001), “Subject-specific language and the acquisition of specialised knowledge: a didactic model” in Lucile Desblache (ed.), Aspects of Specialised Translation, Paris, La Maison du Dictionnaire pp. 26-30.
Ethnologue Country Index at http://www.ethnologue.com/country_index.asp
Site consulté le 24/10/2005.
Unesco, Index Translationum database http://databases.unesco.org/xtrans/stat/xTransStat.a?VL1=SL&top=50&lg=0
Site consulté le 20/10/2005.
 Jean Delisle, Hannelore Lee-Jahnke and Monique C. Cormier (eds.), 1999, Translation Terminology, Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins, pp. 169-170.
 The source text in the list of the most popular books translated is English in over half of the cases. See Unesco reference.