The idea is very simple. If we save on a computer two different languages with their matches and their grammatical and syntactical rules, then we can program our computer so as to when we give as an input a sentence, a paragraph or a book in one of the two languages, then the computer will return it to us to the other language.
Also this idea is reasonable because computers are ideal for this kind of work. They can keep in their memory a huge amount of data and since they are programmed correctly, they can always produce the right result, faster, cheaper and more consistently in comparison with a human.
Reasonably, arises the question of our title for which there is a long and interesting discussion about the human translation and the machine translation systems.
The idea that was mentioned at the beginning is not something new. The first mention to an automatic system that will translate without any human intervention are in some texts of the 17th century. The first implementations came around 1950, shortly after the creation of the first computer. Their results were at least mediocre. However, that was enough so as to create hope and to decide to continue its investigation and development.
Since then, the Machine Translation (Machine Translation – the translation that does not require the contribution of a human) has made a great improvement. Not only has been improved, but is now available to all, free and easily with tools like Google Translate. Although, sometimes its results are excellent and other times disappointing. Some believe that the further development of these systems is a great step so as to offer an excellent result and finally to lead to the replacement of the human translators.
But there are many reasons that support the opposite view.
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Machine Translation vs Human Translation
First, the translation is not a bijective process. For each word or phrase of a language, there may be several possible translations depending on its meaning. For example, for the English verb “run”, Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer of the Oxford English Dictionary has recorded 645 different meanings and while it is too easy for a computer to “remember” them, it is extremely difficult to decide which of all translations is the correct. In addition, a human translator, while it is impossible to remember all the 645 interpretations, can usually understand which translation is more appropriate according to the meaning of the text. Sometimes, it is impossible even for a human translator to decide which of the possible meanings of a word or phrase is more appropriate and should contact with the author as he is the only one who can clear up the desired meaning.
The communication between the translator and the author, may be necessary in some other cases, when the translator finds something that considers it may be wrong. Not just spelling or typographical errors that an automatic system can detect but for meaning mistakes that a machine will never understand.
Moreover, the correct translation is not only the right rendering of meanings in another language. For example, the translation of literary texts requires the maintenance of the aesthetic value in the new language. Additionally, the translation of an advertising campaign requires the proper rendering of the original meanings, adjusted at the same time, to a different audience. The aesthetic value, the tone of the language, the pace of a text, are meanings that a mechanical system is unable to understand.
Other times, there are some area restrictions that impose minor deviations from the original meaning so as to have the final text the desired size. In these cases, is needed the critical ability of the translator.
Improvement? Yes, but ……
All the spoken languages around the world are improved and changed daily. Not only the new idioms, which probably could be provided as updates on automated systems but many spontaneous puns are created every day and their translation requires creativity or a sense of humor from the translator.
Finally, beyond the written word, it is needed the translation or interpretation of the spoken word, where the mechanical systems have many difficulties since the understanding of the human speech from the machines is still at a very low level.
It is obvious, due to a variety of reasons that the human translators will not become unnecessary and replaced by their ‘colleagues’, the machines, at least in near future.
At present and in the foreseeable future, the technology will have a supporting role in the work of translators with specialized language tools / programs (text editors, terminology databases, etc.), which is called Translate with Electronic Support (MHD – Computer Assisted Translation / CAT).
Consequently, it is clear that the short answer to the title’s question is that the replacement of the human translation by technology, today, seems to be impossible.