I have mixed feelings about emerging markets. Inevitably, they “emerge” as business partners with the developed world, as potential buyers for what someone else is trying to sell them, as potential sources for coveted exports. In the era of global commerce, emerging markets are exciting: untapped money flows, impressionable demographics unjaded by first-world glut.
I’ve always seen the language industry as gatekeepers against overly imperialistic, blunt-force market expansion. They speak the cautionary words that things aren’t done quite this way in this country, that the mores are different, that this thing or that thing may upset people.
Ideally, the language industry functions as a sort of global conscience, even if it’s ultimately justified by return on investment. Being nice and culturally appropriate are nearly always good business strategies.
Often, even as they’re doing business, the people in our industry are advocating for their own culture, their own country — or one they love. And this is not insignificant. Particularly in a world whose political climate has drifted toward saying and doing things that may deeply offend or injure nearby nations and people groups, having an entire industry devoted to global diplomacy is important.
Where politicians fail, may our industry succeed. May our translators, interpreters, programmers and engineers accept the responsibility of global communication — and global gatekeeping — with the kind of grace that the world so deeply needs.