Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reply to February 17, 2010 Blog

By George Witherington
16 June 2010

In her blog post "PROFESSIONALISM" REVISITED" of February 17, 2010, Rosene links the "present sad state" of our profession with ill-advised efforts to "formalize" translation. "Would-be protectors of our noble profession" (me included) are taken to task for trying to force the "art" of translation into a scientific straightjacket.

From the client's standpoint, Rosene's objections against rationalization may seem out of place in an industry being transformed by computer-assisted translation (CAT). Its two main elements, machine translation (MT) and translation memory (TM), have been a veritable boon to translation service users. Capacity, efficiency and rapidity gains have at last become possible. Large-scale projects, which were previously considered impractical or too costly, have become feasible today thanks to CAT tools.

Yet continuing translator unease over this "invasion of the machines" is also understandable. MT violates fundamental rules of the art. In particular, it delivers approximation in place of strict accuracy. Worse still, MT creates the illusion that there is no further need for human translators. To believe that automation can replace humans is to ignore that CAT depends on recycled human translations. It needs further up-to-date human translations if matches are to be current. To advocate wholesale automation is, furthermore, to imply that language and translation training, whether academic or professional, is pointless.

Translators' coolness towards MT and TM is also financially driven. MT shrinks the pool of work available to translators. TM is blamed for rate modulation according to TM match; e.g., 75%-95%, 100%. Both have contributed to stagnating or lowering remuneration rates. On the other hand, the increased productivity enabled by MT and TM means that translators who do use these software tools can earn more than they otherwise would.

It was inevitable that translators would be caught unawares by the arrival of CAT tools. The profession's narrow "craft" focus meant that it paid little attention to downstream processes (typesetting, post-editing, proofreading, paper and electronic publishing). Translation seemed oblivious to the fact that its outdated practices were preventing users from efficiently exploiting translated material.

The new technology was introduced by software specialists from outside the industry with an eye to rationalizing the entire translated document production chain and not just translation. A profession with a stronger voice and clearer idea of its role within the chain might have engaged in a more constructive dialogue with the innovators. That could have led to fewer unintended consequences for all the parties concerned...and Rosene would have been happier.

George Witherington

16 June 2010

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