It is a well know fact that most professions, even well established ones, do not stay the same. They change over time, and sometime they disappear.
Have you ever met a cobbler who was not a pie? And when was the last time you had your refrigerator, TV or PC repaired? Since products that used to be made to last a very long time are now thrown out because they give up the ghost after just a few years, refrigerator repairmen and TV repairmen had to find a new job. PC repairmen are still surviving, but just barely, mostly because there is plenty of work for people who can remove viruses from infected computers.
Or take a profession that still exists, such as the policing profession. They used to be called “peace officers” and “peace keepers”, but now the police drive through poor neighborhoods in what looks like tanks, or walk on the sidewalk wielding machine guns, protected by impenetrable body armor from demonstrators who somehow got the crazy idea that they are entitled to free speech. The former peace keepers have now become war makers. They are the most dangerous people in many neighborhoods. They have a gun, they can get away with murder, and they know it.
But of course, the police have different roles in different neighborhoods. The description above is applicable, at least at this point, mostly to poor neighborhoods, the kind of places that are best to avoid. But how do you avoid them if you happen to live there?
In vast American suburbia populated by what is left of the middle class, the main role of the police is to generate revenue for various minor infractions such as by ambushing drivers in speed traps where the posted speed is 25 miles an hour because only locals who know exactly where the cop’s car is hiding drive at 25 miles an hour. If they catch you driving over the speed limit, it will cost you well over a hundred dollars, depending on how fast you drove, and most of the fine will go to “court processing fees” because you will have to go to court to pay the fine.
In neighborhoods where the super-rich live, the police are still the peace keepers. They know that their job is to protect the ruling class and serve the nice people who live in exclusive, gated communities from the rest of the world in this manner.
Some people think that the translating profession’s days are numbered as well. I hear it all the time from non-translators. “Is there even a need for translators when machine translation is easily available?” people sometime ask me when they find out what it is that I do for a living.
Most people have already discovered that machine translation often makes no sense, but they still don’t understand that it will never really make sense because the reason why machine translation often makes no sense is that it is not translation. It is basically just a bunch of words generated by a machine based on an algorithm and it is up to the reader to make sense of these words.
Depending on the language combination and how complicated the subject and the structure of the sentences may be, sometime it does make sense. The approach of Google Translate seems to make sense more than other approaches to machine translation, but that is because Google Translate simply tries to find an existing human translation and match it to a similar text.
But since a perfect match can be made only when it is basically the same text, what do you do with the mismatched parts?
To make sense out of the mistranslated parts, you will need, …. ehm ….. a translator, and contrary to what certain people who push the concept of post-editing of machine translations as an easy fix for this particular problem are saying, not just any translator will do. You will need a very good translator because what is euphemistically referred to as post-editing is most of the time a complete retranslation.
In theory, even a relatively inexperienced translator should be able to edit machine-translation output because most of the work has already been done, right?
Well, not exactly. Most of the work has been done only if the words are correct and they have been put together the right way. But how often is that the case? Not very often, at least not with the kinds of text that I translate.
This week, for example, I was translating among other things a relatively short medical report from German and a relatively long medical study from Japanese. I am not a doctor, let alone a medical doctor specializing in the fields and the subjects that I was translating a few days ago – cardiology, and infectious diseases.
Two or three decades ago, it would have been very difficult for a mere translator such as myself to translate these two medical reports because translators could not look to the Internet to have their questions answered when they were dealing with arcane subjects and very complicated terminology.
Compared to the situation back then, translators have many more tools at their disposal now, and search engines and machine translation represent one such a tool which is rapidly replacing specialized dictionaries in the bag of tricks that most translators are now using.
New tools have always been a part of the evolution in just about any profession. People who think that these tools will eventually replace my profession just like technologies enabling cheap manufacturing of shoes and TVs replaced cobblers and TV repairmen are entitled to their expectations, and it does not bother me much anymore when they ask me a dumb question.
I forgive them because I know that they are mistaking new tools (Internet, machine translation) for what can be done with these tools, but only when the most important tool available to humans, called human brain, determines the result of one of many mysterious process in this human brain called translation.
Translators will go the way of cobblers and TV repairmen when the ruling class no longer has any need for police to protect a privileged few from enormous multitudes of unwashed masses …. by which I obviously mean …. never.