Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tomorrow Is Another Day

Translators are great profession to bridge the gap between different cultures. My profession is not exactly a translator. As a cross-cultural exchange promoter, however, I use techniques of translation and interpretation. There is an opinion that computer software will be able to translate any language, soon or later. It is remarkable to see rapid growth and development of translation software. However, a machine will never be able to replace human translators. There are 3 barriers for a machine to do translations.

1. It does not take the background of translation into consideration. Therefore, it has no way knowing the purpose of translation.

2. It does not assess emotional factors of expression given in a different language.

3. It is difficult to go over and bridge cultural difference of expression.

What software can do for translation is take a word, an expression, or a sentence and replace it with another language. It is, in this sense, a process of coding and encoding. This method is not enough for proper translation. For example, if one uses translation software for English words "execute this agreement", he would get Japanese meaning "give death sentence to this agreement". His translation software does not provide Japanese words meaning "put this agreement in effect". This is an example of the above item 1.

Let us examine item 2. A translator mentioned that she needed to read the entire book in original language to translate the contents effectively. She explained that she could make a serious mistake, if she did not understand the whole story. She could not understand the meaning of each sentence, otherwise. This translator said that she needed to be emotionally synchronized with the author on the author's opinion, emotion, and intention of his writing. It will take a long time for a device to be able to do it even if it will, some day.

3rd item is the issue of cultural difference. Japanese language put emphasis on processes, while English tends to go straight to the conclusion. Usually, an English proverb "Haste makes waste" has its Japanese version. The fact is, however, that the Japanese version is "Detour when you are in a hurry". Another example is "Tomorrow is another day." The literal translation version of this saying in Japanese is "Tomorrow another wind will blow." English likes direct expression, while Japanese tends to be indirect. There is another example of culture affecting languages. When a Japanese says it is hard, it means either it is impossible or he cannot do for a reason. When native English speaker says it is hard. He does not refer to its feasibility or his desire to do.

These are factors a machine with today's technology level cannot overcome. Human beings must wait until cybernetics or artificial intelligence is born to enable machines to do proper translation. Until then, PC software will continue to be a useful tool for translators to get their job done.

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