Now the spread of MT software like Google Translate and Bing Translate and the improvement in their quality are obliging the Government of Canada Translation Bureau to take a leap forward or be made partly redundant. According to the Bureau's CEO, Donna Achimov (see photo), government employees log over a million uses of Google Translate each week. A proprietary MT system called Portage is scheduled to be made available to 350,000 Federal Government employees on April 1. A pilot version is being tested, not without criticism.
Of course the human translators are up in arms, worried ostensibly about the quality of the translations but in reality more about losing their jobs. The professional association to which I belong, the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO), has written to its members asking them to make their feelings known to the minister responsible. Here's how I have responded.
Machine translation (MT), for all its many imperfections, is here to stay. Rejecting it is like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. If public servants are not allowed to use the Translation Bureau's MT device they will simply turn to Google or Bing Translate, which are available for free. They are already doing so right now. Indeed one wonders why the Bureau is going to the expense of developing its own system when the ones just mentioned could be adopted and improved for less.References
That said, there are real dangers in people using MT who do not understand its limitations and who are not themselves bilingual. You just have to try using the current systems to see their shortcomings - hence the complaints that have already been received. The state of Maharashtra in India has barred employees from using Google Translate in the wake of of an embarrassing Marathi mistranslation it caused them of a circular for imposing sedition charges (see References). So caveat emptor! ATIO should press for some precautions:
1. MT translations should always be headed by a notice, "To save time and expense, the following translation has been produced by computer and is not guaranteed against meaning errors or poor language. If you have any queries, complaints or suggestions, please contact Client Services of the Government of Canada Translation Bureau at [email address] or [phone]."
2. The official who commissions or produces the translation should accept responsibility for it by signing a docket to that effect and filing it
These precautions would IMHO make users think and have more effect than would opposition, Certainly more effect than protesting that some translators will lose their jobs (which is no doubt what the government would like). At least some of the displaced translators would find new work as consultants and correctors.
Marion Marking. Cats and dogs trigger machine translation row in Canada. Slator, 8 February 2016. http://slator.com/technology/cats-and-dogs-trigger-machine-translation-row-in-canada/
Faizal Malik. Maharashtra govt bars employees from using Google Translate. Hindustan Times, 14 December 2015. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/maharashtra-govt-bars-employees-from-using-google-translate/story-TGTXYC9OLulDK6TwDLvFXJ.html
Donna Achimov, CEO of the Government of Canada Translation Bureau
Why Portage? Canadians think of it as a Canadian word, coined first in French from porter meaning to carry and then borrowed (with a slight change of pronunciation) into Canadian English. The fact is the word has been around in English for centuries, but it may be necessary to explain it for modern readers. In Canada it means the old practice of carrying canoes and their loads across a land barrier between two rivers or lakes. Hence it is a metaphor for overcoming the barrier between two languages.
NPIT3, Winterthur (near Zurich), 5-7 May 2016
International forum for Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, the latest paradigm in translation studies. http://www.zhaw.ch/linguistics/npit3.