Blogs and news items on subjects such as translation, translation studies, and languages more generally will be posted to this page once the website is fully up and running!
French translators have had a tough time translating Donald Trump’s speeches into the language of Molière. Translator Bérengère Viennot believes the new US President is difficult to translate because “he seems not to know quite where he’s going,” she told the LA Review of Books. The first step for a translator is to be able to “get into someone’s mind,” explained Mrs Viennot, but it’s not always easy to understand the point Mr Trump is trying to make.
“Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit," she said. “It’s as if he had thematic clouds in his head that he would pick from with no need of a logical thread to link them.” This creates difficulties for the French, whose language is, in general, more structured and logical, and translators are left with a dilemma over whether to prioritise meaning over style. But even for English-speakers, Mr Trump is not always the easiest person to understand.
During the first presidential debate he used the world “bigly”, which left many pondering what the new word was meant to mean – "big league", or something else? On another occasion, he was heard saying “swatches of land,” when he really he meant “swathes of land”. French translators might have a difficult time translating the US President over the next four years, but perhaps they will finally help Mr Trump make sense.
My childhood memories of Star Trek might be hazy at best, but one image did stick in my mind. On some occasions when Captain Kirk met with an alien species he would communicate with them through a universal translation device.
I can't remember whether he flicked a switch or prodded at a device but there was definitely some intraspecies communication going on. The pointy-eared or four-eyed alien would speak in his own language but Captain Kirk and the audience would hear him in English. I remember being fascinated by this as a concept.
Fast forward four or five decades since Star Trek was conceived and there are those who would argue that we are not far off that idea. No, we're not communicating with little green men, but with the advent of online machine translation it is so much easier to at least attempt communication with people from our own planet.
I have come across long-distance relationships, lovers cruelly divided by language as well as oceans, conducted entirely through Google Translate; language students swearing that they wouldn't have passed exams without it. The tool was even said to have been used last year in a UK court when the court-appointed interpreter failed to arrive for the hearing – albeit just to inform the defendant that the hearing was being adjourned because the interpreter was absent.
This is good news if you need to know or communicate something quite basic or to just get the gist of a text. I recently came upon a blog and could not identify the language and just copying a few words into Google Translate did the trick (it was Swahili). It's less good news if you have some serious stuff to translate and want your language to appear – human.
Earlier this year, there was a kerfuffle in the Turkish press after an interview with Noam Chomsky went awry. The Turkish daily, Yeni Şafak, interviewed the political commentator about developments in Egypt over email in English and then translated his answers into Turkish. In a published transcript of Chomsky's "original" replies, the following sentence appeared: "Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West."
When the Turkish original: "Aksine ne zaman ki her şey süt liman olur, düzene girer işte o zaman Batı'da telaş başlar" is fed into Google translate then you do indeed get that garbled English sentence above. The words "süt" and "liman" do mean milk and port on their own, but taken together they form an idiomatic expression to indicate calm.
A human translator might have put it thus: On the contrary, when everything has calmed down, then this will be when the West starts panicking.
At the moment, much of machine translation on its own is not sophisticated enough to replicate natural human language. Companies hoping to reduce sometimes considerable translation costs are attracted by a machine/human hybrid collaboration increasingly being offered by translation agencies.
This involves running texts through translation programmes and the resulting copy is post-edited by a human linguist. Of the many winners in this formula, unfortunately the translator is not one of them. Finding themselves at the bottom of a production chain, they find that they have increasingly less room to manoeuvre in a crowded market. Newbie translators, who are perhaps recent language graduates and keen to gain experience and start building their network of clients, may be more likely to be tempted by lower paying jobs such as these.
The modern world demands that messages be conveyed quickly and in a variety of languages. The British Academy's 2011 Language Matters More and More report notes that "the proportion of internet usage conducted in English is already on the decline, falling from 51 to 29% between 2000 and 2009." English may still be the big player on the internet but communicating globally means more languages, not less.
To that end, machine translation serves a particular purpose and serves it well. However, machines can only translate words and not meaning and will be unable to grasp concepts, abstractions or cultural references. Ultimately, machine translation fails to differentiate between the language of a literary masterpiece and a car manual, a United Nations convention and a text message. To the machine it's one and the same.
The homogenisation of language may be the dream of science fiction writers and futurologists but even a machine programmed to have a brain the size of a planet and fed every article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica will still be missing a heart. Algorithms may be able to work well with data but can they deal with syntax, idiom or nuance? Translations should be elegant as well as accurate. Good translation is good writing which reflects a lifetime of experience, creativity and imagination.
I think Captain Kirk would agree that we are not yet in possession of that magical universal translator which will allow us to communicate effectively and accurately. I for one hope that time remains light years away.
If you've got an ear for languages, a knack for coding or a steady hand with a scalpel and don’t faint at the sight of blood then your career looks rewarding and stable – translator, web developer and surgeon have been named as the three best jobs in the UK.
Job search engine Adzuna analysed more than 2,000 job titles to identify these three as the most highly rated positions,thanks to a combination of factors including their high levels of job security, pay and income growth potential. But at the other end of the scale, miner, courier and builder’s labourer are the bottom-rated roles because of their high-pressure deadlines, long hours and low salaries. Intriguingly, pilot was rated the sixth-best job overall but the responsibility that comes with taking the passengers’ lives in your hands every time you take the controls meant it was the third most stressful job. Adzuna used deadlines, competitiveness and physical and emotional risk to rate the most pressurised jobs, giving additional weight to levels of actual physical danger. Taking the heaviest toll on the nerves are working as an oil rigger, doctor, pilot, journalist and fireman. For those looking for a position less likely to send the heart racing, the research recommends finding employment as a receptionist, librarian, translator, secretary or charity worker.
Key to research by Adzuna – whose data help power the “No 10 Dashboard” designed to give the Prime Minister and Whitehall officials an at-a-glance overview of what’s happening in government and the country – was the insight it offers on the future of work, identifying the areas that are the most promising for those looking for a long and rewarding working life. Flora Lowther, head of research at the job search engine, said: “Listing every available vacancy in the UK and studying the behaviour of millions of monthly job seekers, gives us a unique insight into employee satisfaction levels and perceptions in today’s job market. Job seekers should be taking note of this research when thinking about their next career move.” Not surprisingly in our increasingly wired world, web developer comes out on top as the most promising job after considering factors including promotion potential, income growth and job security. The career also benefits from a lack of competition, employer demand, rising wages and excellent working environments pushing it to the top of the pile. The job also boasts an average salary of £34,600 and there are 21,099 openings listed online in the UK. Roles in IT and engineering are perceived by workers to offer the best prospects as average wages have grown 3.2pc since January and the number of jobs advertised in the sectors increased 23pc over the same period.
Ms Lowther added: “The tech market now outperforms other sectors such as finance and engineering in terms of job availability. There are now 200 established tech companies in London’s Tech City, with further entrepreneurial pockets emerging in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff.” The domestic technology industry is worth £34bn and comprised of around 3,200 companies. London’s tech hub has created an IT “buzz” in the UK and an appetite for talent, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Brian Henderson, tech partner at PwC, said: “What frustrates growth is a lack of talent. Big companies are absorbing the skilled workers, pushing up salary costs for start-ups. We have programming and tech talent with international experience but not on a big enough scale.” Techniques needed by the sector include social media, search engine optimisation, pay per click and affiliate marketing, meaning graduates and job seekers may already have relevant existing skills but do not realise it.
But at the other end of the spectrum, Adzuna’s research found that the growth of technology had a negative impact on more traditional roles. Ms Lowther said: “Technological advances and cuts at big firms such as Thomas Cook and the Royal Mail have affected the UK job market. Jobs like travel agents, postmen, supermarket cashier and factory workers are becoming increasingly redundant in today’s employment market.”