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What do we know about the future of translation after the EMT conference?

úterý 6. prosince 2011.

Academics from the EMT Network and beyond discussed the future of translation during this year’s EMT conference held on 30 November. Given the progress in machine translation, the changing landscape of dominant world languages, the evolving nature of translation professions and the way human translators process information, the future looks complex and challenging but extremely exciting. As one of the speakers aptly said, ‘You’ve got to keep riding this dragon!’. Here is a brief wrap-up of the highlights of this inspiring day.

The conference was opened by Rytis Martikonis, DGT Director-General, who stressed quality, flexibility and rigour as the key words of the day, and indicated DGT’s responses to those: machine translation, a language industry web platform and the European Master’s in Translation.

The first keynote speaker, Mikel Forcada of the University of Alicante, concentrated on rule-based and statistical machine translation, describing how challenging it is to encode professional knowledge in these crude models. Reiner Arntz of Hildesheim University talked about the growing importance of less commonly used languages for the translation market and how to use intercomprehension and bilingualism in the curricula of translation programmes, thus adapting the training to the social phenomena of immigration and increased mobility of today’s students.

The panel debate saw a number of punchy contributions. Sharon O’Brien sketched a scenario-based vision of the future saying that a high percentage of translation work would be automated and post-edited; making the source language text ready for machine translation would therefore gain in importance. This emerging paradigm will put even more emphasis on the fit-for-purpose concept of translation, she added.

Jochen Hummel stated that quality is not and will not be defined by language professionals but rather by the client. In consequence, supply chains for translation services will become more complex, and IT-agile development concepts may be applied to translation services.

Gurli Hauschildt speculated on what the future holds with a ‘did you know?’ series of facts, picturing translators as linguistic astronauts and speculating whether the EMT will evolve towards a master’s in computational linguistics in 20 years’ time.

Jaap van der Meer insisted that although human translation has a future it will undergo profound changes. There will be a major cleavage in the market: while machines will account for the great bulk of translations of lower quality but performed in real time (they already translate a bigger volume than humans), human translators will still be responsible for hyperlocalised translations of high quality in more languages.

Nijole Maskaliuniene was convinced that the future would prove challenging for universities as well. They would have to retain their universal education, rather than merely concentrating on employability, as they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that students can use language wisely and creatively.

Wojciech Orlinski discussed the re-emergence of small languages and dialects in Europe, quoting the example of Silesian which, although understandable for Polish native speakers, at this stage does not lend itself at all to machine translation. It is still very easy for human beings to create untranslatable texts, he concluded.

The discussion drew to a close with Nicolas Ostler outlining the historical perspective on the world’s dominant languages. It’s all through conquest, commerce, culture or conversion that languages rise or fall in economic power, he stated. Therefore, the destiny of the linguae francae in the past clearly shows that the days of English as the world language may be numbered. Afterwards, there will perhaps be no language to replace it.

Androulla Vassiliou opened the afternoon session with a speech emphasising the importance of the EMT model for translator training. She went on to outline the main aspects of the new ‘Erasmus for all programme’, which will retain a strong chapter on language learning. Thanks to this approach, people of all ages and backgrounds will be able to fully use their potential, as multilingualism has a central role to play in the smart economy and is indispensable for mobility and employability, concluded the Commissioner.

The proceedings and the full report of the EMT conference with forward-looking conclusions will soon be published on the EMT website

Konrad Fuhrmann and Edyta Ziomek

EMT team / DGT.S.3