Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Is it time for a slow translation movement?

Andrew Neather in a thought-provoking piece ('We must make hard choices in Google's brave new world' London Evening Standard), touches on the problems faced by people who will be digitised out of a job by the emerging new 'Big Data' (Google, Apple, Amazon etc) trusts.

Translators are one of the groups Neather singles out as being threatened by this monopolisation of data.

As he puts it "... I can punch “I am writing an article about the future of the internet” into Google Translate and get a split-second Finnish translation — “Olen kirjallisesti artikkeli tulevaisuuden internet” — for free. But it in fact depends on thousands of translators’ previous work, their texts compared by Google across millions of pages. Their (uncompensated) labour is rendered invisible."

There is also the question of whether the 'translation' is correct. If you do not already know Finnish, how can you be sure?

But let us not despair just yet. The fact is, there is no substitute for a human doing the actual translation. The human translator will know what is right and what is not. The Translation Memory (TM) is a great help, and can speed up repetitive work, and Machine Translation (MT) is just that; neither can replace a human brain, for all its 77% water content.

The slow food movement was born out of the need to fight the onslaught of industrially produced anonymous foodstuffs, and to rediscover local produce made by real people. The recent news about product substitution in factory made food across Europe seems to vindicate the aims of this movement.

Perhaps it is time for translators to stand up for their own work and reject the industrially produced sausage meat which passes for translation in some spheres.

Translators of a future slow translation movement would provide true crafted work entirely fit for the purpose of human communication. Human Translation (HT) would become the norm for those seeking quality.

But this is no radiant future. This is the present, and most professional translators will recognise it as what they do every day.

It is up to us to continue to work to the highest possible standards and ensure our clients and prospective clients are aware of this.

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