They say the shoemaker’s kids go barefoot…and similar could be said about the transcription agency owner.
Mixed metaphors aside, once upon a time, I was a graduate student in linguistic anthropology at UCLA. I was conducting ethnographic research among speakers of Judeo-Spanish, a language spoken by Sephardic Jews—descendants of the Jews that were exiled from Spain in 1492. I spent a year living in Jerusalem, home of the largest [of a quickly shrinking] Sephardic population. My days were filled with recording informal conversations, language classes, interviews, stories and songs, and my evenings were filled with—yup, that’s right—transcription of the audio.
At that time, I knew a lot about Judeo-Spanish and Sephardic Jews. As for transcription? I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Transcription was a necessary part of my research, but I had no idea that professionals even existed in this field, let alone that I would one day join those ranks and be the owner of a transcription agency back home in Chicago.
My transcription challenges? Oh, where to begin…
- Sheer volume: approximately 240 hours of video.
- Language mixing: the recordings included Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew, English and French—and often in the same sentence.
- Audio quality: not so good. Remember, I was on a graduate student budget, so I had an entry-level Sony camera and a microphone with a 30-foot wire I picked up from Radio Shack.
- Now-archaic technology: I backed up each of the Hi-8 recordings onto VHS. I would then watch the tapes on a VCR that I had bought at an Indian import store on Devon Avenue in Chicago and that took up an entire suitcase. Why did I schlelp this halfway across the world? So I’d be able to convert between PAL and NTSC. I later transferred key video segments to mini DV tapes as additional backup. And of course I also had a handy-dandy cassette recorder with me at all times.
- Now-archaic technology, continued: the pause, stop and rewind buttons on the remote were designed for watching TV (and on the cassette player for listening to Whitney Houston)—not for micro-level linguistic analysis. I didn’t even know that transcription pedals or transcription software existed.
- Not just verbatim: I didn’t just need verbatim transcription; I needed to document speaker overlap, laughter, length of pauses, latching (two utterances with no pause between), as well as paralinguistic (e.g. intonation, volume, facial expressions) contextual cues.
Fast-forward a whole bunch of years, and here I am in Evanston Illinois, just north of Chicago. I’m the owner of Multilingual Connections, an agency that provides professional translation and foreign language transcription services in over 75 languages. My Hi-8, DV and cassette tapes are all in boxes in my basement at home, but every day, our office receives MP3, MP4, WMA, WAV and a variety of other video and audio file types files through our secure file transfer. Our professional transcriptionists use transcription pedals, transcription software and specialized headphones to expedite the process and to get you accurate transcripts as quickly as possible.
We transcribe focus groups, interviews, university research, conference calls, earnings calls, law enforcement (wire taps, victim interviews, jail calls, body wires), documentaries, depositions and more, and our transcripts are also used for subtitling and voice over. Spanish transcription is the most common request, but we transcribe Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Tagalog, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese and so many others.
With my PhD completed in 2004 and now a business to run, any additional transcription or analysis of my doctoral research is on hold, but if you have a professional or academic transcription need, our linguists, transcribers and project managers can help make the process a lot less painful for you than it was for me! Contact us for more information or for a quote.
(And if you’re curious about Judeo-Spanish, click here to read More than a Language, a Travel Agency: Ideology and Performance in the Israeli Judeo-Spanish Revitalization Movement.)
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