Posted by: patenttranslator | April 6, 2013

Machine Translation Is Just Another Tool In A Translator’s Arsenal Of Modern Tools

Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to use while being engaged in a peculiar activity involving for example translation of a very complicated patent were: 1 – a typewriter, and 2 – a few specialized dictionaries, which by the time they made it from the printer to the translator’s desk were inevitably already obsolete.

Oh, I almost forgot – there was also the precious tool No. 3 in the arsenal of tools available to translators – the life-saving “whiteout”, the greatest invention since sliced bread as far as translators pounding the typewriter keys to produce their masterpieces were concerned.

Things started looking up for our profession around the year 1980 when personal computer with a printer replaced the traditional typewriter-whiteout combo. The cheapest PC model used to cost about two thousand dollars, but it came with a word processor. Back then when WordPerfect was the king of word processors, there were many word processors, before the wise heads at a cartel called Microsoft decided to get rid of them so that a couple of decades later, they could start selling Microsoft Word as a yearly subscription through the Internet tied to a single PC, which means that over a period of 10 years, they could easilly wring out more than a thousand dollars from a single user of a single piece of software that used to cost about one to three hundred dollars.

Will they get away with it? I would hope not, but the chances are that they probably will. In the meantime, I started learning OpenOffice in case I need to switch to it as I am looking at it now in a completely different light.

If you buy something digital in the modern world, something digital that can be delivered through Internet, something like software, or music, or a book, you don’t really own it anymore as used to be the case in the predigital world. In the new, digital  world, you don’t own anything. Instead, the cartels own you because now they can sell you a temporary license to use whatever it is that they are selling so that you will have to buy the same thing over and over again every year.

Things have certainly changed, haven’t they? Mostly for the worse, but in some respect probably also for the better. Translators now have many more tools at their disposal.

In addition to a powerful computer and word processor, we have the Internet where most of the time, we can find life-saving context and databases including bilingual lists of terms that we need for our work.

We now also have machine translation which we can use to get a basic idea about the text that we are translating, or a rough simile of what our translation might eventually look like.

Or not.

The problem is, many people who know nothing about translation, (and some who are selling translation for a living), are often unable (or unwilling) to make a distinction between machine translation and real translation.

Machine translation is not a real translation. It is a tool that can suggest a possible translation, which in some cases may be right, and often is completely wrong. A tool does not replace a human translator, whether the tool is a dictionary on paper, on a disk, or in a database, or a fairly sophisticated software package called a machine translation program.

It is understandable why people who don’t know much about the translating process would make this mistake. In the nineties, companies were training people to become operators of complicated machines manufacturing various products such as car parts, only to eventually replace these operators by robots capable of performing all of the manufacturing stages that used to be performed by humans.

Should it then not be possible to apply the same approach to translation?

A similar robotization of translation would be possible if the translation process could be divided into a great number of small but precisely measurable segments, which could then be reproduced with a software package. It would then be possible to replace a human operator called translator by software, while the product of this robotized translation would perhaps still be examined by a human operator who would be basically performing the same task as a file input clerk.

The problem is, words are not car parts. When you put car parts together the right way, you have a car. When you put words together the right way …. you have an expression of human mind and soul.

We use words as substitutes for mysterious processes occurring in a largely unexplored universe called the human brain. At this point, we really have no idea  how the brain works. We know a little bit about the trillions of processes taking place in the brain probably every second. But there is much more that we don’t know about the brain than what we do know about it – otherwise we would be able to cure for instance Alzheimer’s disease.

Translation tools and aids that translators are fortunate to be able to use now, as opposed to the situation 10, 20 or 30 years ago, including machine translation, should not be mistaken for what they are not, namely human brain that can react to and recreate the world around us in more languages than just the one that was originally programmed into our brain in our infancy.

To be sure, some translations are so simple and repetitive that robotization of the task with machine translation which can then be quickly edited by a somewhat bilingual human operator does make  sense and it is probably something that is already being used in many cases.

But for the most part, the results of such a process will be quite unpredictable.

If a creative bilingual or multilingual human brain is not a part of the equation controlling the entire process from the very beginning, the resulting product will be at best only a blueprint for translation that still needs to be put to test and approved by a real translator.

And if human creativity was not included at the initial stage when software and hardware took control over the decision making process instead of letting a human brain work its magic, the results may be correct, only partially correct, or completely incorrect, and only a human translator will be able to tell which is which is which.

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Responses

  1. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfOHjeI-Bns&feature=player_embedded#! Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to us…  […]

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  2. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfOHjeI-Bns&feature=player_embedded#! Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to us…  […]

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  3. Firstly, thanks for the great fun with the first music clip! I listened to and watched it before I started to read your post.

    At the beginning, it reminds me of Tony Roder’s Observations from a Rear-View Mirror and then I just come to observations.

    “Things have certainly changed, haven’t they? Mostly for the worse, but in some respect probably also for the better. Translators now have many more tools at their disposal.”

    Tools can be used to our advantagements. But some tools can enslave us for good, especially those you don’t own and have to renew “license” each year. There are also tools for lazy zombies, such as marketing texts along with a directory of agencies, that they can mail the texts to, or portals for peanuts raking.

    You are talking about robotization using machine translation, but I am thinking about robotization of translators by making them to do post-editng and zombification of translators by you-know-what-means.

    A machine translator as a tool has no intention, it serves a purpose that suits some corporates who are going to enslave human translators if these concede to using the tool and degrade themselves to post-editors.

    It isn’t a matter of using a tool for me, but a matter of submitting oneself to a tool that definitely enslaves us, once we make concessions to it.

    Like

  4. Glad you liked the music. I expected you or somebody else to comment or “Lichtensteiner Polka”, but that’s probably still coming. Isn’t German music wonderful once in a while?

    Anglos are usually more reserved when listening to music in a pub for instance, except in rock concert.

    “Tools can be used to our advantage. But some tools can enslave us for good, especially those you don’t own and have to renew “license” each year.”

    (Like Trados, right? And now, also Microsoft Word).

    “There are also tools for lazy zombies, such as marketing texts along with a directory of agencies, that they can mail the texts to, or portals for peanuts raking.”

    Exactly. I already wrote several posts about this problem, 3 I think so far.

    Like

    • Ha, I knew that you would like to know if anyone has anything to say about the video clip Liechtensteiner Polka. I am pretty used to music of the like and it is for happy-together in Germany. In Münchner Löwenbräu and other pubs, you encounter such music. Oktoberfest, not to mention. 🙂

      License for a year, well, my clients provide me their tools. I don’t need to buy any license. It’s in their interest that I use the tools they provide. I pursuaded recently the representation of a car-maker in Taiwan to buy some licenses of a specific CAT tool that the car-maker in Germany specifies. All stakeholders, the car-maker, the agencies in between, me and some co-workers at the representation, are happy about it. This is the best solution for the company in their translation needs. Since I am going to be tired again and get retired soon, “nach mir ist die Sintflut.” A mean old man, some would say, I guess.

      Like

  5. […] Check out the Mad Patent Translator´s blog post here! […]

    Like

  6. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfOHjeI-Bns&feature=player_embedded#! Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to us…  […]

    Like

  7. Great post. Thank you!

    Like

  8. […] Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to use while being engaged in a peculiar activity involving for example translation of a very complicated …  […]

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  9. Impatient for the “whiteout” to dry (the local popular brand name here in NZ the 1980s was “Twink”), one of my colleagues discovered that very narrow Avery adhesive labels (stuck on a long waxed ribbon inside a box) was the quickest way to blot out typescript so we could make handwritten changes and amendments to our typewritten translations. Draft translations (done on our manual Olympia typewriters), covered in thick layers of “whiteout” and adhesive labels would then be sent to the “typing pool” where highly skilled typists would produce final (error-free) versions on their IBM Selectric (“Golfball”) typewriters. It’s almost hard to imagine that, in those days, a single typo would require retyping an entire page. How times have changed…

    Like

    • Oh, yes, those were the days.

      Whiteout and IBM Selectric, and women knew their place too: kitchen or typing pool!

      I used to type on an IBM Selectric while answering questions from visitors at the San Francisco Visitors Information Bureau.

      What a beautiful noise that typewriter made!

      Like

    • Paul, I did have you in mind when reading this post 😉 Typewriters, whiteout etc.

      Like

  10. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfOHjeI-Bns&feature=player_embedded#! Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to us…  […]

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  11. Maybe you should take a look at LibreOffice. You see, I’m not sure why, OpenOffice was split into two: OpenOffice itself and LibreOffice. Most developers migrated to LibreOffice, and Open was kind of abandoned for a while. I read that Open was picking up again, but it’s probably still somewhat behind Libre, which has become the default in most Linux distributions.

    Like

  12. I downloaded LibreOffice and looked at it but I really did not like the way it appeared on my screen. Everything seems way too small for my old, tired eyes.

    So I think I will keep trying to learn OpenOffice. The main problem with OpenOffice is that complicated formatting is not always converted into MS Word correctly, otherwise it works very well.

    My son was going to buy MS Office for Mac until I told him about OpenOffice and that is all that he is using now.

    So I saved him a bundle. I think that Microsoft is making a mistake with their new pricing scheme, unless they are planning a trick later down the road, such as different price plans than what they officially announced (one PC, 1 copy, 100 bucks every year), depending on the market situation.

    If they stick to their present predatory price scheme, I will figure out how to convert everything for my clients as flawlessly as possible to OpenOffice or something else and stop using MS Word altogether.

    Like

  13. […] Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to use while being engaged in a peculiar activity involving for example translation of a very complicated …  […]

    Like

  14. […] Machine Translation Is Just Another Tool In A Translator’s Arsenal Of Modern Tools This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: passings, Philly accent, Quidditching Red T: non-profit organization for translators & interpreters in conflict zones How Do I Set My Rates? Hourly rate calculator for language translators Found In Translation: The Cost of Understanding, the Value of Words Marta Chereshnovska interviews #l10n marketing guru Jessica Rathke LocTalk #2, notes and ideas – Tokyo videogame localization event So, graduation! Translator? And then what? Natali Lekka’s story! Leverage the theory covered as a part of your translation degree 13 Famous Movie Titles That Got Seriously Lost In Translation Translation industry trends in Sweden – an interview, part two Linguistic Conundrum: Should You Translate Swearwords? Languages of diplomacy: Towards a fairer distribution Corpus-based collocation dictionaries in 230 languages PEMT Case Study – Advanced Language Translation Photos of really wacky translations at in’tl airports What delights purchasers of translation services… Love Words That Have No English Translation Five Steps to Take before Website Localization Balance your words with…MTM Translations Where can I listen to real interpreters at work? Why do tech neologisms make people angry? The Rise (and fall) of Freelance Translators A beginner’s guide to video game localization What is the best Approach: Fierce or Flaccid? Translating music: just jokes and gibberish? Interesting Origins of 10 Familiar Phrases Getting paid. On time. With the EU’s help Theater Meets Professional Development Multilingual justice: Laws in translation On Making Deadline-Missing Mistakes The Translator Diaries: Lydia Smith International iOS Plurals Library “Translators” Scammer Directory Networking Tips for Translators Our Friend, Mr. Microphone Interview with Marja Vaba Unplugging: why and how […]

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  15. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfOHjeI-Bns&feature=player_embedded#! Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to us…  […]

    Like

  16. […] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfOHjeI-Bns&feature=player_embedded#! Many people reading these words will not remember it, but a few decades ago, the only tools that a translator was able to us…  […]

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