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Off topic: Translation – a profession with a future?
Thread poster: markj
markj
German to English
+ ...
Jul 2, 2004

Seeing that the Internet has probably had more of an impact (both positive and negative) on the translating profession than on any other, and to all intents and purposes has made it possible for anyone across the world who has a computer, Internet access, and knowledge of another language, to set themselves up as a translator (and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to work at home and be their own boss), would you agree that in the case of some of the major language pairs (e.g. Spanish-English, German-English) there is now so much competition for work that the chances of getting regular assignments for decent rates are massively reduced compared with, say, 10 years ago? At the same time, with the massive strides currently being made in machine translation (apparently Philips now use machine-translation to translate some of their user manuals, and the quality, it seems, is just as good as human translation), do you think we will still be around at all, except in the case of literary translation, in 20 to 30 years time?

I’m not sounding off here. I’m just interested in hearing what other people think about this none-too-bright scenario.


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RHELLER
United States
Local time: 17:00
French to English
+ ...
Not quite ready to be replaced by a machine Jul 2, 2004

Dear Mark:

I used a machine translator this week for a short paragraph. I was comparing Italian hotels and only some of the websites have an English option.

The quality was terrible. Even worse than I had remembered. I find it difficult to believe that Phillips would use it.

I still believe the human brain has not been surpassed!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some Observations Jul 2, 2004

I also still believe the human brain has not been surpassed! Nor will it be. Ever.

However, with some of the cut-throat competition going on and the fact that we are all freelancers and not organized, does make it difficult to get established and make a halfway decent income that might attract you more than flipping burgers or cleaning offices.

There are lots of comments in that area on this site.


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Marketing-Lang.  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:00
English to German
+ ...
The threat is real, it's a question of time... Jul 3, 2004

markj wrote:
... apparently Philips now use machine-translation to translate some of their user manuals, and the quality, it seems, is just as good as human translation ...

Automated systems are of two types:
1) translation-memory related and
2) structured language related systems.

For (1) a human has to provide the first translation, and this is our everyday business.

For (2) the systems can only be fed with structured language, where every sentence and every term is subject to strict limitations. This may be acceptable for describing coffee machines and razors.

But what about new technologies and innovations, where new concepts have to be expressed?

The bulk of my work is for technology companies who in a hurry to publicise their latest developments -- either in technical documentation or through marketing. As far as I can judge, there's neither the time nor the urge to confine technical editors and copywriters to stylistic straight-jackets.

@Henry: never say never. Technological progress is breath-taking.

One consolation for me is that no sensible human would trust a machine without rigorous quality controls. The far-off future for translators may be a move to more proof-reading. But the qualified human can never be entirely excluded.

It's still a question of time.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
I'll say never. Jul 3, 2004

Human expression is unlimited in its variety. Yes, applications can be devised that are more advanced, but they will never come close, even far away from fathoming the human mind. Never.

We will never be replaced.


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Marketing-Lang.  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:00
English to German
+ ...
Dear Henry Jul 3, 2004

I admire your optimism; and you are absolutely right about the irreplaceability of human creativeness.

The good thing about machine translation is that it can take over where no human would want to go, i.e. boring, repetetive structured texts (that no-one really *reads* anyway) ...

[Edited at 2004-07-03 06:22]


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:00
Flemish to English
+ ...
Evolution of the pc Jul 3, 2004

In 1980 the first pcs on the market had a memory of 16K.
Now the maximum capacity is about 5 GHZ. How much will that be in 2024?
If the evolution of the translation and speech processing tools continues at that pace, where will we be in 2024?
Speech processing tools and huge databanks as well as translation tools will probably be integrated. The translator will be the editor of these language-processing tools.
Never say never. International institutions and big businesses could save a lot of money. Given the technological evolution and the benefits...
-
The market for English into Spanish and vice-versa is saturated. Take the test and look up all the English-Spanish translators in Proz. The list is endless.
Consequently, the translator, who delivers the best quality at the most favorable rate will get the translations.










[Edited at 2004-07-03 10:08]


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Klaus Herrmann  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:00
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Garbage in garbage out Jul 3, 2004

Williamson wrote:
In 1980 the first pcs on the market had a memory of 16K.
Now the maximum capacity is about 5 GHZ.

16 kB is memory size, 5 GHz is the processor speed.

My apologies for pointing out your mistake, Williamson. Usually, I'd consider it bad manners to correct a colleague in a forum thread. However, in this case it really makes my point: A good part of our work goes into editing/correcting the original text. No computer, AI, or robot will change that. I'm with Kentish_Man - our job profile may change, but I can't imagine we're going out of business...


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
German to English
+ ...
Translation – a profession with a future? Jul 3, 2004

markj wrote:

... anyone across the world who has a computer, Internet access, and knowledge of another language, to set themselves up as a translator ...



Too true. But there's a difference between "setting oneself up as a translator" and being capable of delivering work to a high standard. The absolute number of people touting for business isn't necessarily indicative of the competition among competent, experienced providers. For German to English (suppsedly a common language pair), for example, discerning buyers with specialized texts not infrequently complain about the difficulty of finding suitable providers.

Marc

[Edited at 2004-07-03 16:20]


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Pablo Roufogalis
Colombia
Local time: 18:00
English to Spanish
The same for most professions Jul 3, 2004

Hello to all.

There's an undeniable truth in that many, not just translations, professions and business will be impacte by globalization, the Internet and technological advances.

If you want a career with a future, you'll want to search for one where people skills are important. And you'll of course need to have those people skills.

The market for translators is becoming more competitive every day. We all need to do something extra for the customer to stand out from the competition.

I'm sure you've heard that from people in other endeavors. Why would it be different for us?


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AnaAngelica Amador
English to Spanish
+ ...
I agree with Henry Hinds. Jul 4, 2004

If language functioned as an equation, with no variables, the possibility of great quality machine translation would be real.

The fact that language has tone, meaning, sound, sense (not the same as meaning), levels of understanding, in addition to differences in grammar structure and cultural content makes it impossible for machine translation to be accurate. No matter how good the systems became, they would still be only as good as the translators who edit their output. I say we are here to stay.

I have clients that ask me about translation programs or gadgets that they have purchased. All I do is give them a sample to translate into English so they can appreciate in their own language what the program provides as a translation. I also tell them that a translation into Spanish would fail to produce some verb modes (subjunctives) and select the correct prepositions (I give them a list of examples). Once they realize it is a good tool for a quick "for information only" look at a document, but not to provide anything worth printing, they lose interest in their "new toy."

Regarding Henry's comment about being a profession of freelancers I say the organizations that represent us will fail to represent our interests well as long as their membership is made of both, professional translators and their employers. We need separate organizations. Lawyers, for example, have the bar association. It is for lawyers, not for law firms. We should also have state licenses. How is it that teachers, lawyers, beauticians, CPAs and plumbers have a license and we don't?

Just my two pesetas.


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:00
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
A classic debate Jul 5, 2004

Often dealt with in science fiction.

I saw an interesting movie related to this called Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams. It was based on an Asimov novel. The basic jist is that some robot is designed to do human work and ends up being human himself, according to law.


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
German to Italian
+ ...
my 2 cents Jul 5, 2004

Kentish_Man wrote:

The good thing about machine translation is that it can take over where no human would want to go, i.e. boring, repetetive structured texts (that no-one really *reads* anyway) ...

[Edited at 2004-07-03 06:22]


I couldn't agree more. I think we should take advantage of the technological development, rather than see it as a threat. Why don't we leave to computers the boring (or at least the MOST boring ) part of the job and focus on the creative part of it? This is what happened in many other jobs too. Of course our profession will change in the next years, as it has been doing in the last years (or maybe even more), but I don't think it'll change for the worse.


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Greg Twiss  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:00
German to English
+ ...
Jul 10, 2004



[Edited at 2006-01-20 22:16]


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:00
Member (2011)
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
how MT corresponds to levels of linguistics Dec 12, 2004

AnaAngelica Amador wrote:

If language functioned as an equation, with no variables, the possibility of great quality machine translation would be real.

The fact that language has tone, meaning, sound, sense (not the same as meaning), levels of understanding, in addition to differences in grammar structure and cultural content makes it impossible for machine translation to be accurate.


Hello AnaAngelica,

I'd like to break down your analysis of "language" into parts. Language is a mixture of pure science, applied science, and art.

1. pure science level:

1.1 phonetics : this is the pure study of sounds. It is characterized by symbols in square brackets [ ]. It is independent of a given language, and to any type of meaning associated to any language.
1.1.1 articulatory- study of the sounds that are produced by the physical organs (lips, teeth, tongue, mouth cavity, etc). It is characterized by binary classification [+ / -] of sound types (labial, dental, sibilant, etc).
1.1.2 acoustic- study of the sound signals that are produced (sound frequencies, low level vs high level sounds, pitch, etc)

1.2 phonology: this is where the sound and meaning converge at the lowest level. When similarly produced sounds at the binary classification level result in meaning difference within a given language, then we are in the science of phonology. This also concerns the study of sound variation due to sound mixture (eg., voiced sounds affecting voiceless sounds & vice verse, sound. This science is characterized by symbols between slashes / /.

1.3. morphology: the study of meaning segments at the "word" level (the word being the voiced segments with voiceless pauses that do not carry meaning). The study of noun declensions and verb conjugations is at this level and usually are considered to be "morpho-phonology".

1.4. syntax: the study of meaning segments at the word level at the "utterance" (phrase and sentence) level. This covers verbal groups, nominal groups, prepositional groups, etc. This is where sentence tree diagramming is done.

1.5. semantics: the study of meaning difference across word segments. Pure semantics uses a binary classification approach [+ / -] of meaning types. For example, the decision of what a "bird" is can be done through criteria classification. +/- ability to fly; +/- possesses feathers; +/- makes nests; etc. This is the way to determine a prototypical model of a category, and determine which are members of a category/family or and which ones are not (eg, are sparrows, austriches, and bats part of the bird family or not?)


2. Applied Science: At this point, the study of linguistics branches off into applied science areas

2.1. pragmatics: the study of kinesics (proximity), monologue/dialogue/ social classes and language registers and how they affect conversation, etc

2.2. sociolinguistics: the study of language and its variation within society

2.3. computational linguistics: they study of statistical analysis on any of the other sublevels of linguistics.

2.4. dialectology: the study of sound pattern differences at the individual level (idiolects), small group/village level (patois), groupings of patois (dialects), and the groupings of dialects (language).


3. art: and then there are levels of linguistics that touch the area of "art", and usually represent work profiles:

3.1. technical writing: finding the balance between "writing" and repeating when necessary, for readers of different types to understand and repeat a procedure or follow an instruction and complete the required task.

3.2. literary writing: writing pieces that are very much different from technical writing and deviate from simple linguistic interest. Literary writing is usually full of creative artistic elements.

3.3 poetry: using linguistic parameters (rhyming, meter, etc) to produce a specific type of text. Musical lyric writing and translation can be subclassed in this category.

3.4 translation: the art + science of transferring and conveying meaning (based on all levels of linguistics) from one language variety into another language variety. In this field, it is also important to distinguish between several translation approaches
3.4.1 Transliteration
3.4.2 literal translations (source language focused translation)
3.4.3 dynamically equivalent translations (target language focused translation)
3.4.4 cultural equivalent translations
NOTE: each of these types of translation approaches is described in the following article:

ALLEN, Jeff. 2002. The Bible as a Resource for Translation Software: A proposal for Machine Translation (MT) development using an untapped language resource database. In Multilingual Computing and Technology magazine. Number 51, Vol. 13, Issue 7. October/November 2002. Pp. 40-45.
http://www.multilingual.com/allen51.htm

(French version) La Bible comme Ressource pour les Logiciels de Traduction: Une proposition de développement des systèmes de traduction automatique (TA) en utilisant une ressource linguistique inexploitée.
http://www.editionscle.com/bol/presse/article1/allen-mltc51-fr.htm


3.5 localization: taking a source text or software program and making it understandable to a difference language variety group by taking their specific language locale issues into consideration

etc.....

AnaAngelica Amador wrote:
...in addition to differences in grammar structure and cultural content makes it impossible for machine translation to be accurate. No matter how good the systems became, they would still be only as good as the translators who edit their output. I say we are here to stay.


Machine Translation (MT) can deal with the pure science linguistic levels. The difficult thing for the field of MT is adapting it to the applied and artistic levels because usually the people working on MT systems have been more focused on the pure science issues than the applied science factors.

Also to take into account is that there is a important distinction to make between "communication" and "translation".

* "Communication" is based on the principle of having transmitters and receivers, and being able to convey a message in any manner possible so that the message is understood by the receiver. "Technical translation" like "technical writing" is not necessarily bothered by repetition, as long as the message is conveyed correctly and no one cuts themselves or kills themselves or others when they operate the equipment. Hence why technical writers and technical translators often refers to themselves as technical communicators.

* "Translation" often takes an "artistic" approach by trying to imitate the role of a "writer" by avoiding repetition, making the text sound completely natural in the target language, etc. Literary translators, poets, and musical lyric translators avoid repetition as much as possible for obvious reasons.


We can look at the different types of tools across this spectrum where at one end ("Translation") with traditional human translation and at the other end ("Communication") with the Star Trek Universal Translator.
- MT systems tend to be more Communication-focused
- Translation Memory systems are more on Translation-focused but just beyond the halfway mark between both ends.
- Recent advances and results in human-computer interaction with MT systems (known as Postediting) show that it is possible to achieve good "Translation-focused" results and not just "Communication" results.

AnaAngelica Amador wrote:
No matter how good the systems became, they would still be only as good as the translators who edit their output. I say we are here to stay.


Read the following short 1-2 page article where I specifically address the statement about MT supposedly replacing human translators:

ALLEN, Jeff. March 2004. Thinking about machine translation: several questions to ask yourself when you read an article about MT technologies. In special supplement of Multilingual Computing and Technology magazine, Number 62, March 2004.
http://www.multilingual.com/machineTranslation62.htm


AnaAngelica Amador wrote:
I also tell them that a translation into Spanish would fail to produce some verb modes (subjunctives) and select the correct prepositions (I give them a list of examples). Once they realize it is a good tool for a quick "for information only" look at a document, but not to provide anything worth printing, they lose interest in their "new toy."


Verb mode selection and output, as well as preposition selection and output are configurable in MT software programs, but not in online MT systems. Read my reviews of MT software programs, and the translator-friendly configurable features that they present / do not present to translators at the following page:
http://www.geocities.com/jeffallenpubs/swreviews.htm


Lastly, some reasons for the success/failure of implementing and using different types of MT and TM "tools", based on many factors, have been discussed in:

ALLEN, Jeff. March 2004. Thinking about machine translation: several questions to ask yourself when you read an article about MT technologies. In special supplement of Multilingual Computing and Technology magazine, Number 62, March 2004.
http://www.multilingual.com/machineTranslation62.htm

&

ALLEN, Jeff. Sept 2004. Tutorial on Mastering Machine Translation Output. AMTA2004 conference, 28 Sept-2 Oct 2004. Washington DC, USA. Georgetown University. http://www.amtaweb.org/AMTA2004/tutorial.html#mtoutput

I hope these references can present another view of how various translation systems are useful to different audiences for their translation needs.

I welcome any comments about my articles and presentations as well as my classification of levels of linguistics above. I've invented this classification this afternoon (based on courses I've given in the past) and it could be fine-tuned.

Jeff
http://www.geocities.com/jeffallenpubs/


[Edited at 2005-01-09 17:05]


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