Posted by: patenttranslator | September 24, 2012

Timeo Danaos Autem Machina Translationem Ferentes (I Fear Greeks Even When They Are Bringing Machine Translation)

According to estimates found mostly only on Internet, although I did hear it mentioned by an Indian journalist yesterday on Le Kiosque on French TV, a weekly program in which foreign journalists are freely discussing in a non-native language current topics, something that American viewers are not likely to see any time soon on their alphabet “news channels” as I wrote in this post, 100,000 to 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide since 1997 as suicide was the only way for them to escape debt.

A major reason for these suicides is that seeds saved from crops in previous years, which used to be free to these farmers, were replaced by patented, genetically modified seeds that the farmers have to purchase now every planting season from giant corporations such as Monsanto. Monsanto seed, which was supposed to multiply the crop of poor farmers and thus make them prosperous, is now making them dead instead of rich.

Europeans and especially the French are very distrustful of genetically engineered food, which is supposedly much cheaper to produce and in some respects better than traditionally grown types of food. This is why this type of food must be clearly labeled as such in EC countries so that the customer would have a choice. In the United States, however, the law specifically prohibits labeling that would indicate that what the customer is about to devour is genetically modified “frankenfood”, precisely so that the customer would not have a choice. To me this is another indication that just like in India, corporations reign supreme in the United States as well.

What does all of this have to do with machine translation? Well, perhaps nothing. But there are certain comparisons that can be made.

When computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools such as Trados were first promoted to translators, the narrative used to get them hooked was that these tools would make it possible for translators to multiply their daily output and thus make much more money. Although the output of words per day was probably increased for translation of some documents such as highly repetitive manuals, the contracts that translation agencies now send to translators to sign typically include a clause specifying partial payment, a fraction of what translators used to make per word, for what is now referred to as “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”.

It would seem to me that the Monsanto seed model has been planted in the translation industry and is now used to aggressively redirect profit away from translators into somebody else’s pocket.

According to a new model that some MT enthusiasts are promoting now for early adoption by translators as I wrote for example in this post about an article in the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle, translators either need to integrate machine translation in their work, or risk becoming modern day luddites.

On the other hand, the contracts that some translation agencies are now sending to translators for signing prohibit the use of machine translation by human translators in their translations (see a sample sentence from such a contract in the Comments section below). There are two reasons for this:

1. Concerns about confidentiality, which may be compromised by using MT online, and

2. Concerns about quality, since when you run text in a foreign language through machine translation software and then edit the result so that it would look like human translation, the most likely result is inferior quality and mistranslations.

But some translation businesses are using the opposite approach: they are looking for translators who would be editing MT, either at a low hourly or a low per word rate, which could then be sold to clients at a hefty surcharge as the result of human translation, or at least as translation with human input.

I would be rather skeptical about the viability and profitability of this business model, but what do I know. I am just a translator. There must be many enterprising geniuses out there who are busy perfecting the business aspects of this new business model for translation as I am writing these words.

At the same time, a strong argument in favor of a translation model built on automated processing of texts through MT software, which would be later improved by a limited intervention of humans, is what one could call herd mentality of translators, especially on the part of the hungrier and less experienced ones, who years ago decided that in order to survive they must spend hundreds of dollars for “licenses” for Trados, which I understand cost 800 dollars and must be frequently renewed. As comments on my blog indicate, translators may hate Trados, but they are buying it because everybody else is doing it.

It will be interesting to see which approach to MT – incorporation or prohibition of MT in human translation – will prevail in the coming years in the translation business, specifically:

1. The approach that prohibits the incorporation and direct importation of MT into human translation, which is what some translation agencies are now including in their contracts, or

2. The approach that says that MT should be used because only luddites would try to resist integration of translation with human translation, while the incorporation is improved with subsequent post-editing.

Both approaches can of course also coexist at the same time depending on the type of the translation segment that we are talking about.

Some translators, including this mad patent translator, never bothered to purchase a CAT tool and probably never will because they see them as being largely useless for their purposes. Similarly, I use MT all the time, but only as a dictionary, which is free as well as omnipresent these days. I would never use MT “post-edited” in my own translations.

It is a very powerful argument when something is available free.

But it is well worth remembering that the lovely parting gift that the cunning Greeks left at the gates of Troy, which later became known as the Trojan horse, was also free.

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Responses

  1. [...] When computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools such as Trados were first promoted to translators, the narrative used to get them hooked was that these tools would make it possible for translators to multiply their daily output …  [...]

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  2. [...] According to estimates found mostly only on Internet, although I did hear it mentioned by an Indian journalist yesterday on Le Kiosque on French TV, a weekly program in which foreign journalists ar…  [...]

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  3. Great post,

    One of my clients now includes the following clause. Their concern has to do with confidentiality as they know that online MT compromises confidentiality. (I quote the relevant part with my client’s ok): “Under no circumstances may automatic translation tools be used for our translations. If the use of automatic translators is detected, the relationship between [agency] and the translator involved in such practice will cease immediately.”

    Whatever the gurus and other interested parties keep repeating (in OUR conferences and in OUR magazines) means nothing to me (a professional translator with all the consequences of being so), and somebody who does invest a lot of money in technology. I am not a luddite. I am not a stupid. The TMs saga has been enough. We should have learnt.

    Regarding your paragraph above: “At the same time, a strong argument in favor of a translation model built on automated processing of texts through MT software, which would be later improved by a limited intervention of humans,”, I would include “increasingly” before the word limited because that is their plan.

    Have a great day!

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment, Aurora.

      I rewrote a paragraph in my post to bring the attention of readers of my blog to your comment.

      Like

    • “Regarding…, I would include… because that is their plan.”

      Well said, Au! There are many schemes targeting translators. When they realize their plan, they don´t need us translators anymore.

      Like

      • And here is a new one, specially designed for lazy zombie translators.

        “Hello,

        I hope you are doing great

        We have been working on a new service for translators, which could be of interest to you: the “Translation Agency Application Assistance Service”.
        Please see our site for more info about this:

        http://www.bewords.com/agencyformwizard/

        In a nutshell, our team has identified the recruitment forms on the main translation agency websites (only the bigger agencies: a few dozen maximum per country).
        Our offer is to go on each of these agencies’ online recruitment forms and manually fill in the forms for you, to enable to gain time (about 15 minutes / form) and submit your application to all these top-level translation agencies easily.
        All you need to do is provide your professional details once (languages, etc.) and we take care of the rest.

        The service is available on a country basis: it’s possible to buy the service just for one country of origin of translation agencies, or several, as you prefer.
        You also have the possibility to tell us if you have a list of agencies to exclude (that you do not want to submit your CV to) and we will take that into account.

        On a different topic, my translation agency Trad Online is growing rapidly.
        We are looking for new local managers, to represent us in different countries around the world. Our presence is currently limited to France, Switzerland, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands.
        If you live in another country and would like to launch your translation agency with us, please fill in the following form and we will contact you soon”

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      • You see, Steve, many a translator does not have such luck as the established translators whom real clients always turn to. And this is why they would easily believe in those ProZtition companies who offer services that actually provided by those translators themselves without their realizing how they provide services to those ProZtition websites (pretty much the same way like how it functions with Luis von Ahn’s Captcha, reCaptcha and Duolinguo – cf. Miguel Llorens’ blog articles concerning these “schemes”).

        This is why it could function even to advertise targeting zombie translators with “If you can speak more than one language, you are sitting on a fortune! There are many companies hiring people who can speak English and another language, no matter which one.”

        Isn’t it nice to have a scarlet badge pronouncing that you are a “professional translator”? That’s how people make money with such schemes without letting wannabees know how it is the way to become a translator and stay a happy translator.

        Like

  4. [...] According to estimates found mostly only on Internet, although I did hear it mentioned by an Indian journalist yesterday on Le Kiosque on French TV, a weekly program in which foreign journalists are freely discussing in a …  [...]

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  5. Hi,

    I am a J>E patent translator. I mainly use Apsic Xbench and occasionally OmegaT. I haven’t tried Trados et al.

    I am wondering what tools (if any) you actually use to translate? Do you simply rely on Word, Google translate, and your own eyes?

    Like

  6. That is correct, I do not use any CATs. I rely on my eyes, my brain and the information available on Internet.

    Given that in addition to translating Japanese patents, I also translate patents from German, French, Russian, and Czech and Slovak to English, it would be probably too complicated if I had to use a CAT tool for each of these languages.

    However, I use post-it notes on which I write the terms that are more difficult to remember in both languages. I stick the notes on the bottom of my computer and when I am finished with the job I file them with original texts of the patents. Sometime I reuse them when the same customer orders a similar patent, but not very often.

    Like

    • There is no substitute for using one’s brain. :-)

      Still, it shouldn’t be significantly more complicated to use a CAT tool in different languages, at least in theory.

      The real problem is that CAT tools are not always very useful.

      Having said that, Xbench is very helpful to me when checking my work.

      I occasionally use post-it notes when I want to remind myself of autocorrect codes for Word. I use my TMX library and glossaries when checking previously used terms though.

      Like

  7. The suicide rate of males in Indian is about three times that of women. During the Great Depression, it was the men who were jumping off buildings. What conclusions are to be drawn from this?

    The business about GM seed and Monsanto has been common knowledge for years. No one cares, just as no one cares that soil erosion is among the worst, if not the worst, environmental problem in the US.

    As for what one signs in contracts, is a human actually checking translations trying to detect machine-translated bits? It would take forever! What a job!!!

    I do not use any CATs either, just as I don’t use any “spellcheck” system. Nor do the different “brands” agree. Words are frequently noted as misspelled that are not, and the alternatives are nothing short of hilarious.

    Like

  8. 1. “During the Great Depression, it was the men who were jumping off buildings. What conclusions are to be drawn from this?”

    To you probably that men are the inferior gender.
    To me that back then men were the breadwinners.

    2. “The business about GM seed and Monsanto has been common knowledge for years.”

    I have never seen an article in Washington Post about it, and I read it daily.

    3. “As for what one signs in contracts, is a human actually checking translations trying to detect machine-translated bits? It would take forever! What a job!!!”

    It should be quite quick. If you enter a text in a foreign language in Google Translate or Microsoft Translator and the MT wording is almost identical to the one supplied by a human translator, it must be a machine translation.

    4. “I do not use any CATs either”.

    Contrary to popular belief, a fairly large number of translators refuse to use CATs, although they seem to be a must for certain types of translations. Most people who don’t use them are old timers like you and me, but also literary translators, translators of “prospectuses” in financial industry, and many other types of translators.

    I have also had messages from people on my blog who translate patents and do use CATs who said that using them would probably not help me much at all.

    Like

  9. I do not use any CAT’s either, mostly because they get in the way and I have always ended up spending more time fiddling around than they actually saved me. And like you, I believe that while CAT’s are great for the agencies, they have made the lives of many translators worse rather than better, despite the initial promise.

    Like

    • As Confucius says, it is not easy to avoid herd mentality, but the payoff is often well worth it.

      Like

      • Hmm, wasn’t it Confusious who said that?

        Like

    • Martin, you must remember how Paul McCartney sang for Roger Moore’s 007 “Live and Let Die”:

      “When you were young and your heart was an open book
      You used to say live and let live
      (You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
      But if this ever changing world in which we live in
      Makes you give in and cry

      Say live and let die
      (Live and let die)
      Live and let die
      (Live and let die)

      What does it matter to ya
      When you got a job to do
      You gotta do it well
      You gotta give the other fellow hell

      You used to say live and let live
      (You know you did, you know you did you know you did)
      But if this ever changing world in which we live in
      Makes you give in and cry.

      (Refrain)”

      Not the CAT, but the TEnT (Translation Environment Tool, as Jeromobot names it), that is great for the agencies to live and let (translators) die.

      Like

  10. @Wenjer:

    As you have correctly surmised, I made the Confucius quote up.

    But he might well have said something like that, I think.

    Like

  11. I dabbled briefly in Trados and MemoQ, but in my line of work (mostly marketing and PR material) repetition is the last thing you want so I tossed them after a while. What can I say, it works for those it works for but there’s no one size fits all solution for translators. It’s probably the same for MT, which works for… umm… uh…. somebody or the other. Probably.

    Like

    • “It’s probably the same for MT, which works for… umm… uh…. somebody or the other. Probably.”

      Yeah, for someone who can recognise the problems in a sentence translated into Japanese by Google Translate as 以下のホテルに私を持参してください while the original sentence reads “Please bring me to the following hotel,” maybe.

      Like

  12. [...] and multilingualism (pdf) Quantifying quality costs and the cost of poor quality in translation I Fear Greeks Even When They Are Bringing Machine Translation How much do translators charge for translating Google AdWords? How Important Is the Preservation of [...]

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  13. [...] According to estimates found mostly only on Internet, although I did hear it mentioned by an Indian journalist yesterday on Le Kiosque on French TV, a weekly program in which foreign journalists ar…  [...]

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