A software revolution for the Feast of St. Jerome

St. Jerome is best known today as the translator of the Vulgate Bible.  We remember him for a feat of scholarship and as the vir trilinguis, master of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  But at the Aquinas Institute, we also admire Jerome for overcoming a logistical problem:  how do you manage workflow on a project spanning 73 separate works and totaling (in the end) 620,937 words?  His cell in Bethlehem was a swirl of dictation and secretaries, correspondence and strategy, inkpots and quills.

We in the 21st Century have computers to manage big texts.  On the other hand, the Aquinas Institute project spans 58 volumes, or 15,170 pages, for a total of 8,758,385 words—and that’s in Latin.  The English text is even bigger.  To put that in perspective, if you typed St. Thomas’s Opera Omnia at 60 words per minute, it would take you 2433 hours just to enter the text, and you would not even have begun to proof-read, format, or compare manuscripts, much less translate anything.

It all started in 2008, when the Aquinas Institute offered its first summer courses. We needed texts for the courses, so John Mortensen decided to leverage a database he had used in researching his doctoral dissertation to generate bilingual books.

At first we just produced Word documents and sent them to CreateSpace for printing. That experiment (read: headache) made it clear that producing high-quality volumes with high-quality texts required much better software.  We needed something big enough to hold the entire Opera Omnia of Aquinas. Our team members were scattered over several states, so we also needed a way to share documents and changes.

We could not find anything even close to what we needed. John began developing our own software system, and since then he has re-written the system three times from the ground up in order to keep it up-to-date and agile. You can see the current public version of the interface at www.ptreader.com.  At each re-write, John researched all the available software.  Did we really need to spend so much time coding?  But nothing turned up.

Until now!  Pondering a fourth re-write, John came across a piece of software that promised to revolutionize our workflow.  Introducing: Trados Studio 2017.

This software has grown by leaps and bounds in the past eight years, and especially in the past three years. It can handle large volumes of text, and it runs checks and double-checks on things like punctuation and formatting. It provides world-class translation tools for analyzing translation similarities and differences, building glossaries, providing suggestions for new translations, and on and on.

Best of all, it allows us to build plugins, small computer programs that add features to the main program as if they had been built in from the beginning.

John is working with developers at SDL to learn about plugins already in development.  We want to create new plugins that are open source and useful to the widest audience possible.  With these custom-built features, we will be able to synchronize translation data with our current enormous database, to format and edit text efficiently, and to keep detailed records about the work done on source texts and translations.  We plan to use Git (the repository system used by Github) to manage collaboration and tracking changes, and we have a custom cloud instance of MySql to hold the data.

It will take us a few months to get Trados Studios 2017 tailored to our needs, but in the end we will have:

  • faster translation, editing, and review of translations
  • the ability to network with people in different countries to bring the works of Aquinas into their languages using translation tools available in every language
  • the ability to invite many more people to participate in translation and editing work
  • all of our digital texts available online for perusal and searching
  • all of our printed editions available in various eBook formats
  • a light at the end of the tunnel for the Opera Omnia project

We like to think St. Jerome is smiling down on us today.

Posted in Publications