Opinion & features
An interesting reflection from Tim Parks on the expendability of translators (from a commercial point of view) and the contentious issue of what a book’s translator deserves to be paid. Though everyone might agree that translators should be better paid, do we think of translation as its own intellectual property, and therefore translators deserving of a book’s royalties, like an author is? Or would it be better to be paid based on the difficulty of a translation, which likely has nothing to do with how commercially successful a book is (but everything to do with how long the translation takes)? Or will certain literary translation always be a labour of love? ( I was interested find out that 0.10 euros a word is a going rate for top-quality literary translation …)
From the article:
“Krieger eventually won her case and the money she was owed, but the sequence of events suggests the essential difference between translators and authors: [the publisher] Piper could never have tried to deprive [the author] Baricco of his royalties, since without him there would have been no books and no sales. He was not replaceable. But however fine Krieger’s translations, the publisher felt that the same commercial result could be achieved with another translator. It’s not that translation work is ever easy; on the contrary. Simply that it rarely requires a unique talent. Krieger wasn’t essential. She could be replaced.”
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Translation took to the big screen this year in the Academy Award-winning film, Arrival. Indeed, when an ominously oblong spacecraft touches down on Earth, translation proves to be humanity’s only hope. As the world descends into utter chaos, linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is sent to the frontlines to attempt to communicate with the mysterious “Heptapods”—to find out what they want and why they’ve come.
We asked three top translators to watch Arrival and to give us their two cents (via email) on the linguacentric feature: Hillary Gulley, translator from the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, and instructor at CUNY—Queens College; Esther Allen, translator from the Spanish, French, and Portuguese and associate professor at CUNY Graduate Center and Baruch College; and Will Evans, translator from the Russian, president at Cinestate, founder of Deep Vellum Publishing, and cofounder of Deep Vellum Books.
Esther Allen, Will Evans, and Hillary Gulley.
Here’s what they had to say:
Words Without Borders (WWB): What did Arrival get so right about being a translator?
Esther Allen: In “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, on which Arrival is based, the words associated with Dr. Banks are “linguist” and “linguistics”; the word “translate” never appears in the story. Part of what Arrival’s cinematic translation of the Chiang story does is introduce translation. And Arrival is an incredible translation, which takes a short story written in 2000 and adapts, expands, and reinvents it to make a statement that is profoundly and presciently about where we are now in 2017. Reading the story provides an interesting perspective on the film’s origins, but the story’s intellectual and political ambitions are far more limited.
What Arrival gets—far better than the Chiang story does—is that translation is about context. When Banks translates one of the alien symbols as “offer weapon,” the world goes into a panic. But she argues that in context the term could have a number of meanings, “weapon” being only one. This is exactly how a translator deals with the ambiguity that is inherent in every word and particularly challenging when moving between languages. Any given term in one language has the potential to become, legitimately, a range of other terms in translation, depending on context, intention, and a host of other factors.
Hillary Gulley: I like that Arrival so vividly illustrates that what a translator communicates and receives in language has at least as much to do with the subconscious element of language as it does with the information that we receive and reconcile consciously.
Will Evans: The importance of translating the whole experience of language—beyond words, combining the phrase or statement or entire text, adding in context, nuance, phrasing—rather than to think of translation as a direct word-for-word transfer of meaning.
WWB: What did Arrival get horribly wrong about being a translator?
Hillary Gulley: The movie confounds the skill sets of a linguist and a translator, for one thing, and then the separate skill sets of a live interpreter and an ESL teacher on top of that. I couldn’t figure out why Dr. Banks was expected to be all four. Maybe because she is a woman? Women tend to be great at making seventeen disparate jobs look as though they belong to one seamless role. Look at the rest of the characters in the movie, who are all men, each with a single mission—or maybe two: their assigned task, involving either fighting or science, and their seemingly self-assigned duty to second-guess the only woman there, who also happens to be the only one of them equipped to save humanity. At some point I said, this screenplay was definitely written by a man. (I was right—and the same applies to the short story that inspired the screenplay.)
In any case, there is this assumption—in the movie and in life—that a linguist and anyone else who speaks multiple languages is automatically a translator, which isn’t the case at all: some of the best linguists and most fluent speakers of a second language I’ve known are not great translators, and vice versa.
The film also propagates the common misconception that translators are walking thesauruses. Maybe this bugs me because I am the worst thinker on my feet, and prone to blanking on all names and the simplest terms. At home I handle this by using a series of sound effects—there’s a favorite clicking sound I usually resort to—so I can move quickly through a sentence without getting stuck on a word. In the film, whenever someone asked Dr. Banks for a term, I wanted her to pass them a copy of Roget’s instead of obliging herself to answer as if it were part of her job description.
Esther Allen: I winced when it’s revealed, in one of the many flash forward scenes, that the book Banks has published about the Heptapod language is titled The Universal Language. That indicates a return to the Chomskyan linguistic model which scorned the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. But Sapir-Whorf—the hypothesis that your experience of the world and particularly of time is conditioned by the language you speak—is the central underlying premise of both movie and short story. And it’s only Sapir-Whorf that has something to tell us about translation. Translators don’t deal in universals, they deal in particulars, in contexts. But that has more to do with the history of linguistics than with the practice of translation.
Will Evans: I don’t know too many translators who live in modernist masterpiece houses on lakefront property, but I like the idea of a linguist approaching translation as a series of problems to be solved without losing the empathy so necessary to make translation successful. It’s super valuable to keep the fields of linguistics and literary translation in dialogue with one another to continue to expand our understanding of the full range of possibilities that language contains.
Read the full interview >>
Related: Interview with the linguist behind the film Arrival
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Two years ago, the marketing research division of Florida-based TR Cutler Inc. interviewed CEOs of privately held manufacturing operations in North America and reported that their top fear was a lack of communication with employees due to the inability to motivate or inspire the workforce. That research was recently replicated, and while communication breakdowns are still the No. 1 fear, the reasons and importance are quite different: It’s about communicating with a multicultural workforce.
In 2015, 20 percent of these CEOs identified communication challenges as being generated by multiculturalism, but by early 2017 that percent doubled to 40 percent. CEOs indicated that the communication problem was about creating a culture of quality in an increasingly multilingual workforce.
Figure 1: Reasons for communication breakdowns by privately held manufacturing CEOs (© 2017 TR Cutler, Inc.)
“Advancements in technology are often met with resistance, especially when the workforce fears displacement,” says Ignacio Isusi, a multicultural industrial communication expert who drives best-practice leadership. “The rise of automation is often associated with the threat that companies will outsource labor to machines. It is up to executive leadership in the C suite to ensure that the employees feel valued, respected, and perceive their critical role to the future success of the company.”
Isusi, who operates the leading cross-cultural executive coaching firm ISUMAS Coaching, says “Spanish-speaking executives being fully understood by English-speaking employees, and English-speaking executives being understood by Spanish-speaking employees must be a top requirement to maintain a quality-centric work environment.”
This is not merely a matter of translation or dual-language workplaces. Industrial leaders must capture the communication needed to honestly empower and engage employees. The foresight of devising impactful and effective employee engagement, and supporting safety and quality initiatives is essential.
A cultural communication context to ensure quality and safety includes training a multilingual workforce. It is an urgent challenge for many industry sectors, particularly in all aspects of manufacturing. In food and pharma manufacturing, as well as automotive and aerospace, a misunderstood assembly or hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) is literally the proximate cause of an employee or customer death. These dangers are not hyperbole, but rather a daily occurrence. Isusi insists, “Industrial leaders must properly accommodate the linguistic needs and preferences of employees in order to increase retention rates and satisfaction, ensure safety, and achieve success.”
Failure to completely understand training materials leads to inferior employee performance, negatively affects morale, and underutilizes workers. In the manufacturing sector, this translates to poor throughput and deficient productivity. Most seriously, lack of comprehension of safety and regulatory training may lead to injury or death.
See more >>
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Localization in the gaming industry is no easy game to play. Diverse brand loyalties, distinct player preferences, cultural differences, hard-to-spot subtleties, and a host of other issues make it essential to approach gaming localization as strategically—and accurately—as possible.
But what makes the difference between a good supplier of gaming localization and one that is mediocre at best? How do gaming companies select the right localization partner? And where do some translators and LSPs fall short?
These are just a few of the questions discussed in the latest Globally Speaking podcast—an episode that focuses entirely on the specific needs of the gaming industry.
Hosts Renato Beninatto and Michael Stevens interview Andy Johnson, who is the Principal Program Manager at NSI, Inc. and has worked in the field of gaming localization since 1991. And a lot of what he has to say might surprise you.
Among the most important issues discussed are:
- How games and the gaming industry itself have both changed in recent years
- How gaming companies determine what languages will or will not be profitable for localization purposes
- Why localizing content across the board isn’t the right solution in many games
- How do gaming companies use big data to drive localization decisions?
Listen to the podcast >>
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Which is better, working for translation agencies or finding your own clients directly? Every translator has an opinion on this, and the debate sometimes gets contentious. But there are pros and cons to each kind of working arrangement.
Working for direct clients can be very lucrative, although you do have to take into account the extra work involved. Unlike with work acquired via a translation agency, you have no project manager to handle communication with the client, so you will be the one sending all those emails, marketing yourself, finding outsourcers and doing a million other administrative tasks that can distract from your true passion: translating. By the time you add up the hours spent on these ‘unpaid’ tasks, you might find your total hourly rate doesn’t look so lucrative after all. Nonetheless, working for companies directly is a great way of feeling plugged in to your industry of choice, and allows you to hunt down the work you find most interesting.
Plenty of translators love agency work however, because it’s much more simple and straightforward. Your only concern is the quality of your work, meeting deadlines and billing on time, because the project manager takes care of everything else. Many translators find that they form strong working relationships with agency staff that can last for many years, and enjoy opportunities for professional development that they might not otherwise have heard about. Agency work is often very varied as well. If you only like one form of translation you might find this dull, but many people love the variety and say it makes every day interesting.
Of course there’s nothing to say you have to choose one or the other, and plenty of people are happy with a mix of both. In your ideal world, which working style suits you better?
This is the summary of an article published in the translation blog of Translators Family, under the title Is it better to work with agencies or direct clients?, by Oleg Semerikov and Translators Family.
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Airbnb now has a Chinese name, and everyone in China is mocking it.
The American room-rental startup last week revealed its new brand name to be used in China — a three-character moniker, 爱彼迎, “Aibiying”. Each character individually translated means “love,” “mutual” and “welcome.”
Airbnb said in Chinese on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that the name means “let love meet each other.” The company further explained that more and more Chinese travelers are getting to know each other through Airbnb, and that the name represents their value and mission bringing together tens of millions of neighborhood communities around the world with love.
However, the company totally failed to impress Chinese people with this moniker. Rather, the Chinese name gave Chinese netizens some cheap entertainment, laughing at the expense of Airbnb.
Why? First, the pronunciation of this name is like some sort of difficult language test. Even for a native Chinese, this name is really hard to pronounce. There’s a high chance that Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky might have a hard time just spitting out the words.
Second, the name just sounds wrong in many ways. With the new moniker “Aibiying” quickly taking social media by storm, Airbnb has received an overwhelming amount of nasty comments.
Some said it’s corny; some said it sounds like a name for a sex toy shop, especially with the pink-colored background accompanying the logo. Some said that it sounds like a copycat porn company (because the second character “bi” sounds similar to a crude slang for female genitalia). Many said that the company should just drop the Chinese name altogether.
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Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, returns to discuss how dictionaries are making themselves relevant again through social media and other digital tools. Merriam Webster has recently experienced a surge in popularity on social media in response to their tweets about politics and “alternative facts.” As Jesse Sheidlower said in a recent The New York Times article, “In times of stress, people will go to things that will provide answers. The Bible, the dictionary or alcohol.”
Hear the interview on the Leonard Lopate Show >>
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How much energy and brain power do we devote to learning how to spell? Language evolves over time, and with it the way we spell — is it worth it to spend so much time memorizing rules that are filled with endless exceptions? Literary scholar Karina Galperin suggests that it may be time for an update in the way we think about and record language.
View the TED talk (in Spanish with English subtitles) >>
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Poet and scholar Esther Schor joins us to discuss her book, Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language, which details the history of a constructed language called Esperanto. She tells the story of Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish Jew, who in 1887 had the utopian dream of creating a universal language that would end political and ethnic conflict, and enable everyone to communicate.
Listen to the interview on the Leonard Lopate Show >>
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Alon Lavie, who heads up the Amazon Machine Translation Research and Development Group, said in a recent Globally Speaking podcast, that neural machine translation “makes very, very strange types of mistakes … because it’s not a direct matching between the source language and the target language in terms of the words and the sequences of words…” Thing is, the strangeness can get masked by the smoothness.
Recently I found myself feeding this line of text through Google Translate.
|For these products, please use 視覚化 not 可視化 based on the definition at the following URL:
It was aimed at linguists, instructing them to use the term shikakuka instead of kashika depending on context. Both words mean “visualization” but have slightly different nuances. And the results were so humorous I thought it would be a shame not to share them.
The neural cogs went whizzing and immediately gave me this:
You might expect that the two Japanese terms 視覚化 and 可視化 in the source would make it through to the target text. After all, there’s no need to translate them. But no. Instead, it produced 視覚障害, a big red flag. Just hit the reverse translate button (always a good idea to do that) to see what it means…
Okay, is this even close to what I wanted to say? Avoid visual impairment? Did I want to discriminate against someone? Of course not. Problem is, the Japanese text is so fluent that it reads like I really mean to be really mean.
Alon was absolutely right. Very strange. What is going on inside those neural networks of theirs? Can I pre-edit the source to help the MT to produce a better output? Maybe that unnatural colon at the end of the sentence is wreaking some sort of unexpected havoc? Let’s change it to a period.
Nope. It’s still giving us that problematic 視覚障害 but followed by some different wording.
Uh, yeah. So changing two dots ( : ) to one ( . ) takes us from “avoid visual impairment” to “confirm that there is no visual impairment”. Help!
Read the full article >>
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While some argue that the infiltration of American English is constantly speeding up, Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK and a reader in linguistics at the University of Sussex, says that in fact the great era of American English as the language of the world was the 20th century, and it’s over.
“American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so,” Murphy wrote in a recent blog. What’s changed in the 21st century, she suggests, is that the internet has re-formed our relationship with media, making audiences less purely receptive, and more able to seek out the content that interests them. Ultimately, she argues, there’s more “exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media.”
“[P]opular songs are less universally popular, because people have more access to more different kinds of music on download,” she writes. “Instead of two or three or four choices on television, there are hundreds. And if you don’t like what you’re seeing you can go on YouTube or SoundCloud…and find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things.”
Geopolitics is also involved. During the last century, two world wars and the Cold War saw Americans posted all over the world, “using their slang in the presence of young recruits from other countries,” she writes. American manufactured goods were widely exported and advertised. With the election of Donald Trump as US president, however, the country’s rhetoric has become decidedly more isolationist. Murphy asks both whether its words and its culture will flow so freely abroad as before, and whether the rest of the world will be as receptive to them.
Not everyone agrees. Matthew Engel, author of forthcoming book That’s the Way it Crumbles—The Americanization of British English, argues that America’s cultural and technological strength globally make it hard for other languages—including French, German, and Italian as well as British English— not to metamorphose under its weight.
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Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri discusses her translation of Ties, a new novel by bestselling Italian novelist and screenwriter Domenico Starnone, winner of Italy’s most prestigious literary award, The Strega. “Ties” tells the story of Vanda and Aldo’s strained marriage, when Aldo decides to leave Vanda and their children for a younger woman.
Listen to the conversation on The Leonard Lopate Show here >>
Jhumpa writes about the path to translating Ties in this Literary Hub article.
Jhumpa writes about teaching herself Italian in this New Yorker article.
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Until recently, website localization was primarily approached in three ways.
- In the traditional file-based approach, project managers would take their loose collection of files (e.g., HTML, PHP, XML, etc.) and simply hand the content off to translation. Those translated files, once returned, would be passed on to the web developers to build the target-language versions of the site.
- Then there was the API “connectors” approach to website localization. Using this method, your web content management system (WCMS) (e.g., Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.) could be connected to a translation management system (TMS) via an application programming interface (API). Source content would be pushed to the TMS through the connector to the translation vendor and routed back to the WCMS through the API.
- From about 2010 onward, we saw the rise of DNS proxy or “mirror-based” approaches to localization. No fussing around with APIs—you would get a web mirror where your localized website is stored and managed by a third-party server with a built-in TMS.
Each of these legacy methods have their associated risks and opportunities as well as varying levels of localized content management involvement.
These third-party web localization services have a number of features in common:
- Online editor for translation
- Option for in-context editing of translated content
- Option to add machine- or human-translated content
Read more >>
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In the last few years, the number of freelancers seeking to work for their own direct clients has increased substantially.
A few years back, I organised a mentoring course for young translators interested in getting more clients. The energy and the enthusiasm arising out of the mentoring courses led to the organisation of two conferences in Madrid and Barcelona (Traduemprende). The topics surrounded getting clients, setting reasonable rates and marketing, and generally helping freelancers to become more business-savvy.
Since then, one of the mentoring students, Lourdes Yagüe, has created a platform to introduce translators to direct clients called Hello Translator.
This is just one example of how translators are getting together to offer their services to end clients.
Leon Hunter is a Spanish to English translator in Madrid and is a ProZ.com member. Read more of his article on LinkedIn >>
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The New York Times is writing about it. So is The Economist and dozens of other prestigious business publications. Why is Neural MT suddenly so important–and critical to language service providers? Check out this three-part podcast from Globally Speaking:
- Why neural MT is one of the hottest trends in the translation industry today: The Challenge of Neural MT: Part I
- Hear what some of the language industry’s leading experts on Neural MT think about the promises, limitations–and pitfalls–of this revolutionary new technology: The Challenge of Neural MT: Part II
- How advancements in neural MT will impact LSPs and professional translators from a practical perspective. Hear why leading experts believe neural MT is a means to support human translation and not an end in itself: The Challenge of Neural MT: Part III
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You know we are still quite a ways from that fully functioning universal translator when even Microsoft admits that using Skype Translator will result in a “clear negative impact” on conversation. And yet they keep coming, these gadgets and apps that are said to provide simultaneous interpretation or so-called real-time translation.
There was some hype in 2009 surrounding the US Military’s use of something akin to Captain Kirk’s universal translator. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about it, so did PC World. Called the Phraselator, the handheld device let you pick a phrase from a menu and it would play the pre-recorded version in, say, Arabic; or speak into the device and a matching phrase would play. Hardly universal nor real-time when phrases are limited to a pre-recorded menu.
Read more >>
Eszter Lelik is the subject of this latest installment in the Open road interview series. Eszter is an English to Hungarian interpreter and translator from Hungary, and was also the grand prize winner of a new Nissan Juke. Her win was announced on 10 January, 2017 in a live broadcast from ProZ.com headquarters in Syracuse. Congratulations, Eszter! On to the interview:
Q. First, the most important question: Where’s the first place you will go in your new car?
Well, I wish I could go on a longer trip with the new car but this is a very busy season for me as interpreter and translator so I can think in terms of a short ride only. So I decided to go to Lake Balaton and visit some friends there.
Q. Now, from your website I see that you have over twenty years of experience as a translator and interpreter. What kind of changes have you noticed in your work and in the industry during the course of your career?
In the course of the past 23 years as it is quite understandable many things have changed. When I started my career, a few years after the political transition here in Hungary, very few people could speak and did speak foreign languages. There was a high demand for interpreters and also for translators in my case, as I worked at that time at one of the Big 6 companies mainly due to the privatization processes where all the documents had to be translated into English. Now, more than 20 years later a new generation grew up, these young people, or rather their parents, realized the importance of foreign language skills so the majority of them speak English, but quite often a second foreign language as well. The multinational companies use English as their corporate language (even if it is e.g., a German company), thus the need for translation has greatly decreased. Nevertheless, considering my specific areas of expertise and the fact that I am doing mainly simultaneous interpreting, plus working not only in English but also in German, I am optimistic about my personal perspectives.
Q. You’ve interpreted for some impressive brands and organizations. What do you find most rewarding about your work as an interpreter?
To become an interpreter has always been my dream. Now, more than two decades after the start of my career I am still certain that I have the best job in the world, at least the right one for me. I like independence, intellectual activity, constant learning, and travelling, always meeting new and interesting people. I have worked for/with famous politicians, celebrities, artists and I sometimes I am amused by realizing that most of them have already disappeared from the public life, from the stage, and I am still here.
Q. Are you optimistic about the future of the language industry?
In my previous answer I have mentioned already what I think of my own future, the future of my career. To be quite honest I am not optimistic at all concerning the future of the language industry in general. With all the translation memories, interpreting gadgets and the obsession with saving money on everything to the detriment of the quality, I think in about 10 years’ time lots of translators and interpreters will be left without any assignment, or paid much less than today.
Q. The theme of this campaign was ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?
Open Road for me means new challenges, opportunities and many new things to explore. I think in our profession constant learning has to be the first priority. Thus, for me, deepening my knowledge in some specific areas, like medical and legal areas, is very important. Learning the use of CAT tools would be also necessary and also modernizing my website is there on my agenda.
Thanks Eszter for your time, and congratulations once again.
All interviews in the Open road series can be seen at http://www.proz.com/open-road.
Everyone who has learned a language in adulthood knows how hard it is, with the grammar books and the flash cards, the pronunciation problems and the awkward rhythm, never quite getting to fluency. How much better to raise a genuine bilingual.
A century ago, bilingualism was blamed for lower IQ scores among the children of non-English-speaking parents. The culprit was poverty, not bilingualism. Today, the prevailing wisdom has been flipped on its head: researchers now propose a “bilingual advantage”.
The research is contested. Some studies have proved hard to replicate and researchers have, in one study, found bilinguals actually performing worse on a single task. But in today’s distracted world, parents are inclined to latch onto anything that might keep the child focused on that calculus problem and ignoring the nearby smartphone.
For more than 25 years, Teresa Schoch has immersed herself in American Sign Language as an interpreter. “I sleep, eat and breathe it,” Schoch said.
Schoch works as a community interpreter, serving wherever the service is needed, while the other main variety of interpreter works in education, in the same classroom with the same people day after day. She said she prefers community interpreting, because of the great variety of experiences it provides.
Being a community interpreter has its occasional downsides, though. Interpreters aren’t only needed in happy and stress-free situations. Medical settings, mental health crises, jails and courtrooms are all situations that sometimes call for an American Sign Language interpreter.
[...] 2016 was actually a really good year for machine translation technology, as MT had a lot more buzz than it has had in the past 10 years and some breakthrough advances in the basic technology. It was also the year I left Asia Online, and got to engage with the vibrant and much more exciting and rapidly moving world of MT outside of Thailand. As you can see from this blog, I had a lot more to say after my departure. The following statements are mostly just opinions (with some factual basis) and I stand ready to be corrected and challenged on every statement I have made here. Hopefully some of you who read this may have differing opinions that you may be willing to share in the comments.
MT Dominates Global Translation Activity
For those who have any doubt about how pervasive MT is today, (whatever you may think of the output quality), the following graphic makes it clear. To put this in context, Lionbridge reported about 2B words translated in the year, and SDL just informed us earlier this month that they do 100M words a month (TEP) and over 20B+ words/month with MT. The MT vendor translated words, together with the large public engines around the world would probably easily make over 500B MT words a day! Google even provided us some sense of what the biggest languages if you look closely below. My rough estimation tells me that this means that the traditional translation industry does about 0.016% of the total words translated every day or that computers do ~99.84% of all language translation done today.
See the full post in eMpTy Pages here: http://kv-emptypages.blogspot.com/2016/12/the-machine-translation-year-in-review.html
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