Death by Machine Translation?

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Nora Stevens Heath

Sep 21, 2022, 9:25:08 AM9/21/22
to Honyaku
I came across an interesting article this morning:


Nora Stevens Heath <>
J-E translations:

Matthew Schlecht

Sep 21, 2022, 11:09:18 AM9/21/22
On Wed, Sep 21, 2022 at 9:25 AM Nora Stevens Heath <> wrote:
Yes, and I'm sure that we'll see more such stories as time goes on.
Too many people give too much credence to raw MT.
I think the final paragraph captures it: "Being able to differentiate between low-stakes tasks and high-stakes tasks remains one of the key points". However, the incident between the Korean and Chinese coworkers is indicative of the extent to which people accept raw MT as real communication.
Most (all?) commercial MT between two non-English languages goes through an English gloss as an intermediate step of the process. That's because most (all?) of the corpora on which the MT engines operate have English as either the source or target in each segment.
This means that Korean > Chinese is really Korean > English > Chinese.
Imagine the possibilities!

Matthew Schlecht, PhD
Word Alchemy Translation, Inc.
Newark, DE, USA

Warren Smith

Sep 21, 2022, 11:22:41 AM9/21/22

Thanks, Nora!

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Jens Wilkinson

Sep 22, 2022, 8:39:07 PM9/22/22

> On Sep 22, 2022, at 0:22, Warren Smith <> wrote:
> Interesting.
> Thanks, Nora!

I also found it interesting, but there’s something tricky about it. In the cases they mentioned, we can’t assume that a human translator would have been on hand. So for example, in Japanese hospitals I am sure that there were cases where non-Japanese were unable to communicate effectively with hospital staff because of language problems. Same with the police stopping people and questioning them. So although yes, it’s necessary to educate people on the limitations, the MT can if used with caution allow people to communicate in a situation that would have worse without it.

Jens Wilkinson

Sep 22, 2022, 10:21:33 PM9/22/22
This entire article, and everyone referenced within in it, are so spectacularly and blissfully unaware of how language works in the first place.
Language is a set of noises we make to manage our relationship with our environment. Every instance of language carries with it a degree of risk consequent upon that management failing in its intended effect.
Translation is a way of increasing the effectiveness of risk management in a multilingual environment.
A fundamental principle of risk management is that failure is tied to the interests of a natural person.
In other words every language event has a risk profile, and to manage risk effectively the potential cost of failure must be allocated to an actual human. That is because a self-interested human can be trusted to actively protect themselves from incurring those costs.
In a free market people who are more willing and able to take on that risk on behalf of others will turn that into a commercial opportunity and sell their services.
That is why we pay other people to cook for us and built and repair our homes and appliances and vehicles for us, and indeed to develop foods and drugs and methods of dispute resolution for us. They all get very good at managing those specific types of risk (i.e. risk of us failing to do any of those things by ourselves) and these activities become occupations and in the case of risks that threaten life, limb and property, “professions”.
You are all (I assume) professional translators. Many of you (I suspect) are not aware of this, or have failed to define it, or have avoided so far articulating all the legal and ethical implication of this fact.
Google and DeepL are not professional translators. They cannot be sued for failing to manage risk. You can. That is your most valuable asset. You have an arse that can be kicked. That should be central to all your sales and marketing messages.
Machine translation is no more a threat to the profession of translation than was the invention of the word processor or the biro or the dictionary or the chair. Just the reverse! It enhances our status as self-interested market players precisely because it is threatening our potential clients.
A translation needs to be a piece of private property, that someone needs to sell, in order to feed their children. The more people who are exposed to the risk of miscommunication or misunderstanding and mistranslation (and everyone on the other side of the transaction as well) understands that fact, the more professional translators of the world will develop their skills and professional remit in order to obtain better and better results for their paying clients, using their intuition and creativity and insights and community to take translation services and quality to place categorically denied to AI and MT even with an infinite amount of algorithmic tweaking and generational microprocessor upgrades. Because a machine doesn’t give a shit.
I grieves me somewhat that there are self-described “professional translators” in the world whose read articles like this WITHOUT their blood-boiling that tensaibaka nerds have taken hold of the narrative and limit it to inane comments about “accuracy” when the only question that matters is “Was the benefit greater than the cost?”! I thought translators were worried about “price erosion”. We can see the enemy. Why don't we attack??


Apart from that, hope everyone is having a great day.

Chris Poole Translation
24 Greenwood St, Abbotsford VIC 3067
T 0412 287 487
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Nov 3, 2022, 7:26:43 PM11/3/22
Hello everyone.
I am hoping to obtain some indicative prices for on site interpreting from someone based in Arizona. Is anyone, or does anyone here know of, interpreters who do onsite work, like all day, factories, technical stuff? Please get back to me with any info or knowledge you may have. Thanks
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