Blockchain and the language industry: What to know

With the bombshell bankruptcy of FTX back in November of last year, cryptocurrency might seem like a bit of a bust to some. But blockchain, the technology underlying the most well-known forms of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and Ethereum, remains a force to be reckoned with.

Applications of blockchain — which experts have called “transformative” and even “disruptive” — aren’t just limited to cryptocurrency though, and some in the language industry have been floating around its potential applications here

MultiLingual caught up with blockchain expert and former managing director of Lionbridge AI Jane Nemcova to learn a bit more about what blockchain is and whether or not language industry professionals should indeed be keeping their eye on developments in blockchain technology.

“[The] truth is that as we start deepening our ties to information gathering, collecting, storing, etc. — whether it’s for one use or another, we will be in the position of needing to improve our own knowledge and use of technology — and how it will manifest intended and unintended consequences,” Nemcova said.

Although the technology’s been around since before the rise of cryptocurrency, Nemcova noted that it became more widely discussed as cryptocurrency came to prominence. Essentially, blockchain is a type of database that stores information in blocks that are cryptographically chained to one another (hence the name “blockchain”), making it impossible to alter the record retroactively — for a more detailed explanation of what the technology is and how it works, see Nadežda Jakubková’s piece in the February edition of MultiLingual magazine.

As for its language industry applications, Nemcova said blockchain could be particularly useful for managing supply chains, partnerships, and legal engagements. Additionally, smart contracts, which are stored on blockchain, could provide more accountability and trust between language service providers and their clients. 

“As with any complex but organized system, blockchain can provide inherent accountability that is often lost in the human oversight and hierarchical organizations,” Nemcova said. “Blockchain applications have the capability to cut through the transparency problem.”

Likewise, blockchain also records the ownership of non-fungible tokens (or as you’ve probably heard of them, NFTs) — NFTs shook things up in the art world a few years back, but Jakubková also posits that they could have a place in the language industry, serving as tickets to conferences or even discount coupons.

The February issue of MultiLingual magazine includes language industry researcher Nadežda Jakubková’s in-depth exploration of how blockchain technology, Web3, NFTs, and the metaverse might impact our industry — be sure to subscribe to the print edition of MultiLingual to read even more about this topic and other hot topics in the language services industry.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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