How will artificial intelligence impact translation?

At the 21st International Federation of Translators World Congress in Brisbane from 3-5 August 2017 there was a lot of talk about neural machine translation and artificial intelligence (AI) and what kind of threat this presented to translators and interpreters. Overall, the message that came through was to embrace technology to improve productivity and accuracy and to rest assured that more data won’t necessarily deal with the complexity of communication and layers of language such as syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

What is all this talk about AI?

Good question. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. A couple of words of AI jargon that you’ll probably start hearing more frequently…

AI complete: the most difficult problems are informally known as AI-complete or AI-hard, implying that the difficulty of these computational problems is equivalent to that of solving the central artificial intelligence problem—making computers as intelligent as people, or strong.

Singularity: the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth.

So translation is still currently considered AI complete.

If you are interested in the impact of AI on all professions in general (especially legal and medical) I recommend the AI Race produced by the ABC.

What about advances in technology?

It is true that despite the technological advances and more contextually sensitive machine translation machine translation still produces unacceptably poor quality content, especially companies and brands that set a very high bar for their content and brand voice. The continuing improvements to machine translation will however have an impact of the role of humans in the translation process.

We need to emphasise the work of the human brain or as it can also be referred to, wetware (human brain cells or thought processes regarded as analogous to, or in contrast with, computer systems). Wetware is the source of contextual understanding, flow and style that a machine cannot produce to the same extent. It is capable of the creativity, understanding, and personality that make for truly effective translation, localisation or transcreation.

Also, don’t forget that there are still languages that google translate doesn’t understand and if you want to be assured that there is significant disparity between hype and reality, just take a look at the nonsensical results of Google Translate Sings (e.g. “Hello” by Adele),

Artificial intelligence and translation

What makes Australian English and American English different?

So you’re going global and need a translation into English but you have to choose between Australian or British and American English. This will of course be dependent on your audience and where you are selling your product or service. I’m going to focus here on Australian English as I live in Australia! Let’s have a look at the main linguistic differences between the two.

The 4 main differences are:

  • Spelling
  • Dates and times
  • Vocabulary
  • Punctuation

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Purpose in Practice: what do you want to do with your translation?

What is translation purpose? Most common definitions would agree that the purpose of translation is to “convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural and regional differences between source and target languages” (Globalization and Localization Association), but how does this reflect the relationship between translator and client in practice?

“Skopos” is a Greek word for “aim” or “purpose” that was introduced into translation theory in the 1970s by Hans Vermeer. This went on to become the technical term for translation purpose and the act of translating for that purpose. It refers to the understanding that each text is produced for a given purpose and as such should be translated in a way that enables it to function in the situation in which it is used, with the people who want to use and in the way they intend it to function. Translators create texts for clients who may be around the corner, in the same city or on the other side of the world, but these clients are not always good at communicating with translators in terms of explaining what they want or need when asking for a translation (sometimes they don’t actually know themselves!).

So in terms of translation purpose, the most important and basic question it seems is: what is it that you want to do with your translation? The second most important aspect to consider is how will a translator help you achieve your purpose?

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Why celebrate International Translation Day?

International Translation Day

Connecting Worlds

International Translation Day 2016 is just around the corner! This special day for translators is celebrated every year on 30 September on the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered to be the patron saint of translators. I believe we have reason to celebrate: think of all the places, books and movies we access thanks to translation. Our lives would be much less interesting without translation!

The role of translators and interpreters in connecting worlds is to open up the whole world to all of us”.

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Interpreters and culture: a close knit relationship

As any language professional knows, language is inextricably linked to culture. An interpreter needs to have knowledge and understanding of both to communicate across cultures. This includes knowledge of norms and idioms that can often be deeply culturally bound. For example if an Australian says, “no worries, it’s a piece of cake”, they are not offering to make you a cake, they are actually saying that something is easy. Or if someone says you are “on the ball”, they don’t mean literally, they mean that you are energetic, organised, attentive and knowledgeable. How would you render that in another language? One of the greatest challenges for interpreters is conveying terms and expressions that are so culturally bound that they don’t exist in the other language. It is in such cases that

“interpreters do far more than bridge language gaps. They enable people from extremely different cultures to understand each other” (Found in Translation p.20).

So how do interpreters navigate culture and cultural differences? Read more

Vocabulary in French English translation

Terminology research – FranceTerme

As a translator there are many ways to research and improve translation vocabulary. The internet is a valuable tool, however you need to know where to look. I recently discovered another source of new vocabulary for those wanting to express themselves in “proper French” without using any kind of improper “Franglais” or an English calque of a particular word. The different vocabularies together words and phrases recommended by the General Commission of Terminology and Neology are regularly published in the Official Journal of the French Republic in the context of the program for the enrichment of the French language.

The commission’s objective is to enrich the French language to facilitate understanding of concepts sometimes poorly understood by the public and recommend contexts for their use.

All vocabulary published in the Official Journal terms can be found on the site FranceTerme: http://www.culture.fr/Ressources/FranceTerme/Librairie

Why is it useful?

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Book review: Found in Translation

Found in Translation: How Translation Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

A book dedicated to translators, gasp! Is this book here to publicly recognise that it is because of us the world communicates? It would seem so. Jost Zetzche, a German translator who has written a doctorate on translation in history and Nataly Kelly, a Spanish interpreter and scholar in sociolinguistics, paint a vivid canvas of just how many aspects of everyday life are profoundly affected by translation. Well researched and presented, Found in Translation reveals the extent to which the products we use and the freedoms and pleasures we enjoy are made possible by translation. Above and beyond world politics and global business, the book is divided into chapters that cover areas as diverse as space travel, legal cases, battlefields, fashion, medicine, terrorism, marketing, the European Union, Ikea, Dr Seuss, the Simpsons, Twitter, Shakespeare, cinema, sport, religion, love, porn, the airline industry, food and more. Each chapter is interspersed with highlighted text boxes that provide examples of funny diplomatic and marketing mistranslations, linguistic facts or quirky stories such as being able to access the ATM in Latin at the Vatican. Read more

Risk in translation

Risk in translation

I am a translator. I translate texts from one language to another. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

But to get from one language to another, or from source text (ST) to target text (TT), requires a translator to go through a process. Firstly, this involves the translator making a number of choices about how to interpret the ST. Secondly, it requires the translator to use resources and to apply technical skills in order to thirdly, re-express the message in the TT. From this description, we can conclude therefore that translation is a decision making process. Any kind of process has inherent risk. The Business Dictionary defines inherent risk as “The probability of loss arising out of circumstances or existing in an environment, in the absence of any action to control or modify the circumstances.” In translation, we could say that risk equates to the possibility of not fulfilling the translation’s purpose as proposed by translation theorist Anthony Pym in his 2010 paper Text and risk in translation. I think that this is only a partial view of what we could consider as risk in translation.

Within the decision making process of translation, I see three sets of risks to be managed and minimised. Text, technology and trade risks.

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Translating happiness

Today, March 20, is the UN International Day of Happiness. I don’t know about you but I have always thought of happiness as a relatively abstract concept, but as an individual one.  I acknowledge that its synonyms – contentment, satisfaction, jollity (seriously we don’t use this word enough!) or enjoyment – are easily understandable. As I did some reading, however, I began to wonder about the UN definition of gross global happiness. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General stated that the world

“needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development, social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness”.

I’m all for measuring gross domestic product but gross global happiness…is this a step too far? As a translator, I’m happy when I’m translating because it makes me happy that I can gift someone with the possibility of reading a text in their own language. As Mandela so eloquently said,

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”.

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