Sunday, April 5, 2009

Blogging Prompt 13: My Area of Expertise

Have expertise in a specific area of study? Share your knowledge!

There is nothing much in my educational background or professional life that is specifically useful in genealogy. As I wrote in Will Translate for Genealogy Help, languages are my thing. This might be helpful in researching my husband’s family, branches of which are from Germany, Italy, and Romania, but these are not the languages I have studied, though I do remember a smattering of German. My college major was Russian language, in graduate school I spread out to Slavic Studies, and as a professional linguist I have studied a few more languages, both in classroom settings and on my own. Russian is still my strongest language, but I also translate from Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Hungarian and Georgian, can do Serbian, Croatian and Slovene in a pinch, and would try my hand at Macedonian and Bosnian if someone is desperate.

I know that many people think there is no long a need to resort to a professional translator when there are things out there like Google Translate, Babelfish, and other computer (“machine”) translation applications, and these applications can in fact be useful in identifying documents and translating material with uncomplicated syntax and ordinary vocabulary. And it is possible to some extent to sort out some of the odd constructions and word choices into passable English, but – and this is a big “but” – the accuracy of the results cannot be trusted with a high degree of certainty. The same can of course be said of human translations. A “smooth” but inaccurate translation of either sort can be dangerous; it “sounds” correct and so is trusted. So, my advice is if you have documents of more than basic difficulty, find a reputable translator to translate them for you.

As for how my skills can help others, I would say that I can produce at least a decent translation or gist from these languages. In addition, the need to research often obscure subjects for my translations has led to the formation of decent research skills and knowledge of some handy search tricks, not to mention knowledge of potentially useful pieces of trivia. And as those of us who pursue genealogy know, those obscure bits of information can come in handy when you least expect it.

And it we take the word “area” in “area of study” to refer to a geographical area, then I could say that I am becoming quite familiar with the following counties: Anderson and Greenville in South Carolina and Baylor, Dallas, Collin, and Fannin counties in Texas.

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