Reader Polls: Which Super LSP Will Win, Translation’s Oldest Debate, Localization Sales

Slator Translation and Localization Industry Reader Polls August 2020

Are you a Universalist? Universalists believe that concepts integral to the human condition exist independent of language, and vocabularies are used to name these concepts. Or are you a Relativist? Relativists see language vocabularies as being influenced by culture; and, by learning a language, speakers are able to understand those concepts.

Well, a group of researchers performed a large-scale analysis in 41 languages across 10 language families. The goal, to determine semantic alignment between languages; semantic alignment defined as the relationships between words with similar meanings. Although the study did not 100% settle the perennial universalist-versus-relativist debate, the results were nonetheless revealing.

The study found that there are indeed some universally translatable words, but these words were not associated with very concrete meanings. Domains with fewer dimensions by which to organize terms were most alignable; say, words related to numbers or kinship.

On the other hand, relativists will be glad to note that the same study revealed cultural correlation to be strongest for words related to food and drink, time, animals, and the body.

The researchers concluded: “Semantic alignment between languages is better predicted by cultural similarity than by the geographical proximity of the populations who speak them.”

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The results of Slator’s August 21, 2020 poll were just about as split as the study. Most respondents (35.4%) said they were Universalist though, while a third stated they were Relativist, and the remainder admitting they missed that discussion in school.

Which Super Agency Will Do Best Midterm?

One of the best ways to quickly gauge the language industry climate is to scan Slator’s Financial Results section. (Take 10 seconds to glance at the latest headlines — see?) Another great barometer is to check how the industry’s five Super Agencies (i.e., USD >200m in revenues, full-service, multi-vertical LSPs) have been performing.

Back in February 2020 — against the backdrop of rising macroeconomic uncertainty as Covid-19 slowed down business across the globe — we wrote about how TransPerfect was leading the Super Agency race buoyed by record revenues of USD 764m after a year of solid, albeit slowing, growth, both in absolute (+USD 59m) and percentage terms (+8.4%). As of Q2 2020, however, the company reported that organic growth — like for like, excluding acquisitions — was “roughly flat.”

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Lionbridge was second pre-Covid 19, posting solid, mostly organic growth of just under 9%. SDL ranked third, closely followed by RWS, and then Welocalize.

We continued to monitor the SDL-RWS race in our analysis of the best-performing stock-market-listed LSPs, thus far, in 2020. In terms of share price, RWS led SDL by a significant margin, with shares up more than 20% at the time of the report.

Responses to Slator’s August 14, 2020 poll on which Super Agency will do best in the near to midterm roughly mirror rankings as reported in February — but more readers think SDL (21.4%) will outperform RWS (17.9%) and the rest of the pack. An equal percentage believe RWS and Lionbridge will perform best, while the majority (32.5%) say TransPerfect will lead the race.

Sales & Marketing Move Online

By now, the translation and localization industry will have come to terms with the new normal in transacting business. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the majority of respondents to Slator’s August 7, 2020 poll have reallocated their Sales & Marketing budgets to 1:1 online activities.

Relatively few respondents plan to invest in onboarding new Sales & Marketing talent, with about one in ten stating they plan to hire Marketing personnel, and even less (5.6%) saying they budgeted to add Sales staff. A more significant fifth say they would rather save the money.

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Automatic Speech Translation Mainstream by 2022?

There has been some movement on the ASR or automatic speech recognition front with the European Parliament (EP) tapping certain consortia to provide automatic speech translation for its sessions. Translated announced that it had signed a contract with the EP to provide “real-time speech translation” that keeps humans in the loop. Sources close to the matter state that all selected consortia will be named in early September 2020.

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Slator readers appear to be split or even a tad less confident in the technology than lighthouse customer EP. Only about 17% think automatic speech translation will definitely be a mainstream B2B product in a couple of years; some 29% say it probably won’t, while most (44.1%) say maybe it could. About 10% of respondents to the July 31, 2020 poll say automatic speech translation just won’t fly anytime soon.