Friday, July 30, 2021

Afghan Interpreters Fear the Taliban

 



The news is that both the USA and the UK are going to take in a substantial number of the Afghan interpreters who worked for their missions in Afghanistan. Let’s hope it’s not too little, too late.


Zia Ghafoori, his pregnant wife and their three small children landed in the United States from their home in Kabul in September 2014. He held five US visas - a reward for 14 years of service as an interpreter with US Special Forces in Afghanistan. But the benefits stopped there. Upon arrival, Zia found himself homeless - sent to a shelter by a well-meaning volunteer who told him it would be a place for him and his family to start a new life. Seven years later, the memory still angers him.

 

Afghan interpreters and fixers have been described several times on this blog. To find the posts, enter afghan in the Search box on the right. They show why it’s only right the terps should be given a decent asylum.

 

Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires. It’s been going on for nearly two centuries. A British mission was massacred in 1843 and two further British incursions from India were unsuccessful. Then in 1970 the Soviets tried to take over the country but they got so trounced that they left in despair. Finally the Americans, with typical bravado, had a go at it with a bunch of allies. Now they too are fleeing. Truly “the only thing we can learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” If the Chinese want to have a try, let them learn the hard way.

 

Sources

Miranda Bryant. Afghan translators and their families to fly in to UK. The Times, 22 June 2021. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/afghan-translators-and-their-families-to-fly-in-to-uk-vrs23g or click [HERE]..


Quil Lawrence. Waiting for U.S. visas, Afghan interpreters fear the Taliban. Npr, 29 July 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/07/21/1021235878/waiting-for-u-s-visas-afghan-interpeters-fear-the-taliban?t=1627662219131 or click [HERE].

Holly Honderich and Bernd Debusmann Jr. From Afghan interpreter to US homeless - until reaching the American dream. BBC News, 30 July 2021.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-58020494 or click [HERE].

Anglo-Afghan Wars. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/event/Anglo-Afghan-Wars or click [HERE].

Image
SSgt Northrup and LT Smith with their terp. Kilo 2nd Platoon Deployment Photos, 2010.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Everyone Is Bilingual

 



 

It’s commonly said that the majority of people in the world are bilingual This means that they know two or more natural languages. (For the purpose of this post we will call the spoken and written languages like English the natural languages.)

 

It used to be that only people who had learnt their languages very young and had a native-speaker mastery of them could be considered true bilinguals. In recent times, however, it has been allowed that people who only know a second language imperfectly or can only use it in limited contexts can also be classed as bilinguals. The progressive widening can be followed in the early pages of Grandjean (see Sources below).

 

Now we propose a further widening. It is to include non-natural  languages whose speakers, writers and signers add up to a vast number. So many that the number of bilinguals surpasses a majority and approaches a totality.

 

We hypothesize that the cognitive mechanisms of the natural languages and our additions are the same; the same not only in the operation of each language but also in the higher-level monitoring and switching apparatus. At least there is no evidence to the contrary.

 

Sign languages

We can dispose of  sign languages for the deaf quickly. It is now generally agreed that they are languages in their own right and not merely re-encodings of spoken languages. They are much more complex than the ‘finger spelling’ idea that many people still have of them. There are people, typically relatives of deaf parents or siblings, who use both a sign language and a spoken language. Those people are unquestionably bilingual. There are also a few people who know more than one sign language, for example Canadian Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language. However, the sign/voice bilinguals only constitute a fringe of the deaf communities and are therefore not numerous in the overall picture.

 

Maths

Quite the opposite is the class of mathematical bilinguals and multilinguals, who are very numerous throughout the world. Infants start to learn to count speaking words: one, two, three, etc., or the equivalents in their language. Then they go to school and learn to write the numbers in the universal notation: 1, 2, 3, etc. – the so-called Arabic numerals – along with the basic operators: +,-, =, etc. From then on they are numerically bilingual, for they are also capable of writing one, to, three, etc. They may  even be multilingual: paradoxically Arabic itself not only uses what we call Arabic numerals but it also has a native set of characters of its own.

 

However, numerical bilingualism does not stop at the graphical level. Many of us have grown up with different counting systems that led to a need for conversion between them. Conversion from traditional weights and measures to decimal ones required a good deal of mental effort for Canadians. And the French number words from 70 to 99 (soixante-dix to quatre-vingt-dix-neuf) may come easily to native French speakers but not to second-language learners, who have to switch consciously between a base-10 system and a base-20 one.

 

But is numerical notation a language? Whichever definition is used, a language contains the following components:

  • There must be a vocabulary of words or symbols.
  • Meaning must be attached to the words or symbols.
  • A language employs grammar, which is a set of rules that outline how vocabulary is used.
  • syntax organizes symbols into linear structures or propositions.
  • narrative or discourse consists of strings of syntactic propositions.
  • There must be (or have been) a group of people who use and understand the symbols.

Mathematics meets all of these requirements. 

In short, educated people throughout the world are numerically bilingual, and there are a lot of them.

 

Music

Music has features in common with translating. It starts in infancy and develops through amateur singing or playing till it reaches the expert and perhaps professional level. Singer often means someone who sings at the expert level just as translator often means someone who translates at the expert level. And both music and translation have notations. In the case of translation they are the natural languages; in the case of music it is a notation that is far from natural, on the contrary is very complex and must be learnt.

 

But is musical notation a language? A prior question is whether music is a language. According to DiFrancesco and Wells it is (see Sources). If so, then its notation is a language.

 

As with maths notation, there are unexpected complexities. For example, the simultaneous transposition of the notation that players of certain instruments like the oboe must practice. And, as with maths, most people learn only the basics; even Pavarotti said he could read a melody but not a full score. However, it is now admitted that bilinguals are not necessarily expert in their two languages.

 

The above examples are far from exhaustive – there are in addition, for example, the many computer coding languages -- but they are enough to show that there are many more bilinguals and even multilinguals than those who are counted on the basis of the natural languages.

 

Sources

François Grandjean. Life With Two Languages, Harvard University Press, 1984.

 

Anne Marie Helmenstine. Why mathematics is a language. ThoughtCo, 27 June 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-mathematics-is-a-language-4158142 or click [HERE].

 

Jenna DiFrancesco and Tasha Wells. Is music a language?  SlideShare, 2011. https://www.slideshare.net/princessjd90/is-music-a-language or click [HERE].

 

Image

Ventajas del bilingüismo para el cerebro. Source: blogs.unini.org.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Marking Translations Positively

 From time to time we delve down into the archive of this blog in order to revive a post that deserves not to be forgotten amidst the mass of hundreds. Here is one such post.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2012

Marking Positively: How to Score Natural Translations

 

This post is addressed particularly to researchers, but it's relevant too for teachers of translation. Note that Natural Translation (NT) is used here as a cover term for both Natural Translation and Native Translation.


At the Forli conference in May (enter forli in the Search box), I noticed that some people are still using the old subtractive scoring method to rate NT.

What is the subtractive method? It means starting from 100 points and knocking off a point, or several points, for each mistake of any kind; typically a point or two for minor errors of content or expression and up to five points for major ones. The 'pass mark' is usually expressed as a positive percentage, but it's really a 'failure score'. That's how students' written translations are marked, and likewise the examinations of the professional associations like the Canadian one to which I belong. It can also be used for interpretations, especially if they're transcribed.

Two objections can be raised. The first is a didactic one: that the approach is negative and therefore discouraging. True, mathematically speaking, -30% of mistakes is equivalent to +70% correct, but the psychological effect is different. Anyway, it's not so important as the second objection, which is that the approach reinforces 'nit-picking' by the markers, because small details are allowed to affect the score significantly. I still squirm at a sequence in an old film about an interpretation exercise for European Commission interpreters (see References) in which a student is berated in front of the other students for his translation of a single word.

When evaluating NT, we need to take the opposite approach. Although mistakes are of great interest insofar as they reveal the limitations and the 'pathology' of NT, in NT research our primary interest should be in what subjects can translate and not in what they can't. A score of only 40% because of numerous distortions and omissions would probably entail failure for an Expert or Professional translator or a translation school student; but for a Natural Translator it represents a non-negligible translating ability and we should focus on it and analyse what that 40% consists of.

How can we build a positive scoring method?

In the 1990s I became involved in the design of tests for candidates who wanted to work as community interpreters for public services in Ontario, Canada. These became known as the CILISAT tests and are still in use. The Government of Ontario funded the necessary research. The candidates were almost always Native Interpreters, because the pay was too low to attract Professional Experts and because the languages were not taught in Canada. We decided we needed a test instrument that would be better suited to Native, i.e. untrained, Interpreters than those used by the translation schools and in the profession. So we turned to a method called propositional analysis. It's used by psychologists among others, and in fact I'd been introduced to it by the late David Gerver, who was one of the pioneer researchers on interpreters and was also a clinical psychologist. The form of it we used it can be described this way:

"To analyze the text, propositional analysis – a description of the text in terms of its semantic content – is used. The units of analysis are propositions, or units of meaning containing one verbal element plus one or more nouns. The corresponding units are then selected on the basis of meaning rather than structure."

In practice this meant that we broke down the scripts for the interpretation tests into simple, single-clause sentences representing propositions and then awarded points according to whether the meaning of each proposition as a whole was conveyed in translation: zero points for an omission or a meaning contrary to that of the proposition; 1 point for a meaning conveyed but not clearly or not completely; 2 points for a complete and true rendering. There was a weighting that distinguished between important and unimportant propositions. This scale was solely for meaning. Other factors, for example correct language, were scored separately and globally, not proposition by proposition.

For example, the statement, "At around 6 o'clock I saw a blue sports car waiting on the other side of the road," might be broken down into:

The time was approximately 6 pm

I saw a car.

The car was blue.

The car was a sports car.

The car was waiting.

The car was on the other side of the road.

A paraphrase like, "I seed a sport car stopping at the kerb of our street before supper" would score 7 points for informational meaning before being weighted for importance. (Work it out! 1+2+0+2+1+1.)  The maximum possible points varied with each script. Small language mistakes like "seed" were relegated to a separate evaluation.

References
Guadalupe Barrera Valdes and Manuel Rosalinda Cardenas. Constructing matching tests in two languages: the application of propositional analysis. NABE: The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 3-19. 1984. There’s an abstract here.

Roda P. Roberts. Interpreter assessment tools for different settings. In R. P. Roberts et al. (eds.), The Critical Link 2: Interpreters in the Community, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1999. Most of it is here.

David Gerver. A psychological approach to simultaneous interpretation'. Meta, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 119-128, 1975. "A slightly altered version of a paper presented at the 18th International Congress of Applied Psychology in Montreal in July 1974". The text is here.

André Delvaux (director). Les Interprètes. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. c1975. 16 mm film. c15 mins.

Comments

The post drew comments. Here are a couple of them.

To those of you who have commented on the post about positive marking...

I ought to have acknowledged that even before I heard about propositional analysis from David Gerver, I'd learnt about positive marking from Daniel Gouadec, a well-known French translation teacher who came to teach for a couple of years at the University of Ottawa in the late seventies (see References). He was working at the time on a marking system for the Canadian government Translation Bureau's quality assessment section, but I don't know whether they ever used it.

In reply to SEO Translator: the deductive method is usually applied to short texts, say 300-500 words. For purposes of comparison, texts of about the same length as one another are used; and also, obviously, of the same level of difficulty. The 'pass mark' varies according to the expectations of the markers or examiners, taking account of the purpose of the exercise (professional examination, translation school assignment, etc.), the institution, the difficulty of the text, the level of the examinees, and so on. I've seen pass marks of 60% to 90%. Logically, tests for Expert Translators should have a high pass mark.

In the CILISAT tests, using positive scoring, we actually had two pass marks: one for 'ready to work' and a lower one for 'shows promise but needs training'. As I recall, they were 80 and 60 respectively, but that was after combining with the separate assessment for quality of target language. I haven't thought about automating these or other scorings. Possibly.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Theodor Herzl's Palestine Interpreter and British Translator

 


“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ─ William Faulkner

Few people are aware of how far the current tragic conflict in the area once called Palestine or the Holy Land stretches back. Its seeds were sown long before the state of Israel even existed, in fact to the late nineteenth century when it was part of the Ottoman Turkish empire.

Theodor Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian writer who was the father of modern Zionism, arrived from Vienna by rail and sea at Jaffa, on the Palestine coast,  on October 8, 1898. He had come somewhat reluctantly, because the choice of Palestine as a new homeland for Jews was not his but that of the delegates at the meeting of the first Zionist Congress. However, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II was scheduled to pay a show pilgrimage visit to the country and Herzl didn’t want to miss an opportunity of meeting him on favourable ground and pressing his case. His plan was to proceed by train on the railway to Jerusalem that had been constructed recently by a French company.

Meanwhile he went on a side trip with his four travelling companions to the prospering settlement of Rishon LeZion.  Today it’s the fourth largest city in Israel, eight kilometres south of Tel Aviv and hence not far from Jaffa, but in 1898 it was an agricultural settlement with a population of about 350. It had been founded in 1882 by Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. By 1889,under the guidance of agronomists sent by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, it had become “a pretty little hamlet surrounded by vineyards and orange groves.” Its citizens were encouraged to speak Hebrew. In 1886 the Haviv elementary school was established as the first modern school to teach exclusively in Hebrew. So Herzl went there and prepared a speech. And then he struck a problem. His speech was written in German  and he couldn’t speak any Hebrew. Once again interpreting came to the rescue: “He delivered his speech in German and one of the villagers stood next to him and translated as he spoke.” We know nothing more about that interpreter and therefore cannot say that he (or she?) was a natural translator, but it’s certainly a case of an NPIT interpreter.

 Sources

Amy Dockser Marcus. Jerusalem 1913. New York: Penguin Viking, 2007. 225 p. Available from the usual booksellers. This is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Theodor Herzl, LL. D.. A Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question, translation of Der Judenstaat, Leipzig and Vienna, 1896, by Sylvie d’Avigdor, London: David Nutt, also 1896. Modern re-editions available from booksellers and on Kindle. A copy of the 1896 edition was recently on offer at $5,000. There are other translations.
Sylvie d'Avigdor, born 1872 at Nice, was the scion of a distinguished French and British Jewish family and was an NPIT Native Translator who, according to the British Library catalogue, didn't publish any other translations. Where did she learn such good German and how did she read the book so soon? David Nutt was a prominent publishing house but also a bookseller of foreign books, so maybe she obtained she book from them. Nutt himself had died years earlier. Unlike Herzl, she lived to see the Jewish state established. Notice she changed the opening German definite article Der to the more tentative English indefinite ANoteworthy too is that the translator appears prominently on the title page, something exceptional in her time and unusual even today; perhaps her family’s prestige had something to do with it.


Rishon LeZion. Wikipedia, 2021.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Child Language Brokering in the Pandemic

 


 A good deal has been written about child language brokering, some of it on this blog. (Enter brokering in the Search box on the right.) But now the covid pandemic adds another page to the story. So an excellent article that has just appeared on a Canadian website is particularly timely. It’s too long to reproduce in extenso, but here’s an extract. There are interesting sidelights on the broker's progress from age five and use of the dictionary. I urge you to read the full article (see below).

"It was Mimi Nguyen’s older sister Kim who first modelled the expectation that the children of newcomers should step in as the family’s translators.

"Their parents settled in East Vancouver, by a stretch of Kingsway that many other Vietnamese refugees have called home since the late-1970s. Growing up, Kim helped these families too, translating teacher’s notices so that parents could keep up with their kids’ school progress.

"Because Mimi was educated in Canada, it was common for her generational peers to translate for their families as soon as they learned English.

"Kim once helped their mother with an English question at just five years old, with the help of a cousin on the phone and a Vietnamese-English dictionary in front of her. The well-thumbed volume is still in the family’s possession.

"It wasn’t until Mimi entered her preteens that she took over helping her parents, translating at in-person appointments and interpreting documents like bank slips.

“'Sometimes it would take the whole community to translate bits and pieces of a document, calling one person and another to verify words,' she said. 'Nobody in our network was fluent enough to translate everything confidently, so oftentimes, people felt like they were shooting in the dark.'

"Language barriers are an age-old problem for immigrants and refugees, affecting everything from housing to health care, education to employment.

"But the pandemic has meant there’s more to translate than ever — and there have been dire consequences for those who can’t read the vital information.

"Even for people who do speak English in B.C., it’s hard to keep up with official sources and sort out the bad ones. But the 'infodemic' weighs more heavily on families like Nguyen’s, who don’t get translations of government information as quickly or completely compared to official languages, if at all.


"Nguyen is now 25, and with her sister living out of town, she is her parents’ primary translator. Because they do essential in-person work — her father at a warehouse, her mother at a food packaging facility — their understanding of their rights and public health messaging is vital to their safety.

"According to Statistics Canada, newcomers are over-represented in high-risk jobs on the frontlines, and the hardest-hit industries like food and hospitality… It’s a privilege to be able to access information about the pandemic, and Nguyen worries about those who don’t have the language, time or know-how. 'Every single day, those inequalities are heightened even further,' she said."

 

Source

Christopher Cheung.  The Translator Kids. The Tycee, 30 April 2021.

 Image

Mimi Nguyen. Photo by Christopher Cheung.

Friday, April 23, 2021

More Issues for Cognitive Translatologists: pathology, savants and multiple intelligences

 


The list of issues in the preceding post was far from exhaustive. Two that might well be added are pathology and multiple intelligences theory.

Pathology

Pathology does not mean the everyday mistakes and slips that all translators are prone to, for example false friends like library for librairie. Such mistakes may give us some insight into how translators store their languages, how they switch between them, etc, but they’re not pathological; they’re part and parcel of the natural translation process. By pathological we mean serious disruptions of translation ability. A good example would be the interruptions and inversions of sentence translation that Michel Paradis (the McGill linguist, not the lawyer) reported in aphasics when he was developing Part C (translation subtests) of his bilingual aphasia test. A subject who could translate one way a certain day could only translate in the opposite direction another day. Pathology is as important for the study of translation as for the study of any other human activity. 

Then there is an inverse of pathology which is genius of a sort: the language savants who can translate. The best described case is that of the English savant Christopher who can speak, read and write 15 or more languages, European and non-European, although unable to take care of himself in daily life (see the Smith and Treffert references below). The reason for this unbalanced competence remains a mystery but seems to support the theory of multiple intelligences (see following section). However, what is of most interest to us here is that he is a natural translator between those languages. There is a nice story about his sister accompanying him to Majorca for a holiday because he cannot be allowed to travel on his own. Soon after their arrival she lost sight of him and was very worried. Finally he was found happily interpreting between Spanish and German for a group of German tourists. It is of interest to translatologists not only that he can translate but also how he translates. Smith noticed that his translations tend to be literal. Many years ago Merrill Swain noticed that some of her seven-year-old school subjects tended to translate literally and other more freely. It’s possible that literal natural translation is an indicator of translating by vocabulary substitution and grammatical transformations rather than by ‘interpretative’ translation via a deverbalized medium. As Smith and Tsimpli say in their foreword:

"Although C. can translate sufficiently well for purposes of communication, his competence in production and judgement tests shows considerable direct transfer of specific structures from English. This finding confirms other evidence that his multilingualism is based primarily upon a superb ability to acquire lexical entries and their morphological characteristics.

Multiple intelligences

“In 1983 Howard Gardner put forward his theory of multiple intelligences which sent shock waves through the educational system in the 1980s and 1990s. The repercussions of Gardner’s theory are still being felt today. What was this theory? In short, Howard Gardner believed that there was more to an individual’s intelligence than one single ability or skill. In his Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences he put forward several different types of intelligence. He refined his ideas over the years concluding that there are seven forms of intelligence.

These include:
bodily-kinaesthetic,
interpersonal
intrapersonal,
logical-mathematical,
musical,
spatial,
linguistic.”

In a poll of presumably expert translators by the web site Transubstantiation in 2009, 43.27% of the respondents self-declared linguistic to be their dominant intelligence, three times more than any of the other intelligences. Hardly surprising. The second percentage was not, as one might have expected, for logical-mathematical intelligence (8.97%) but for intrapersonal intelligence, i.e. self-awareness (14.35%). Be that as it may, the multiple intelligences hypothesis has become so prevalent that cognitive translatology can hardly ignore it. If it is valid, it  might be applied to candidates for admission to translator and interpreter training programs. Is there even a translational intelligence? There was a lively discussiion about it some years ago on the forum of PROZ, which is a platform for professional translators. Pablo Bouvier, a technical translator, remarked, "I do not believe that different intelligence exists. What exists are different perceptions of a unique intelligence."

Sources

Michel Paradis. Two languages in one brain: neurolinguistic aspects of bilingualism. Lecture at the Department of Linguistics, University of Ottawa, 18 January 1991.

Howard Gardner. Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983.

Linguistic intelligence. Transubstantiation, 22 September 2009. https://transubstantiation.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/linguistic-intelligence/

Multiple intelligences & translators. PROZ forum, September 2009. https://proz.com/forum/

Neil Smith and Ianthi Maria Tsimpli. The Mind of a Savant: Language Learning and Modularity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

Darold Treffert. The polyglot (language) savant. SSMHealth, April 25 2017.

Merrill K. Swain, G. Dumas and N. Naiman. Alternatives to spontaneous speech: elicited translation and imitation as indicators of second language competence. Working Papers in Bilingualism (Toronto), no. 3. 1974, pp. 68‑79.



Saturday, April 17, 2021

Issues for Cognitive Translatologists

 



At the end of the preceding post there was a promise of some issues worthy of  consideration by cognitive translatologists. So here goes.

Innateness

The paper Translation As An Innate Skill (1978) polemicized that the human ability to translate is innate. Innateness is a much-discussed topic in theories of language acquisition. The argument in  Innate Skill was based on cases where bilingual children translated from a very young age (typically three years old) without any instruction. Since then there have been many accounts of children and adolescents translating at a slightly older age (five and up) especially from research on so-called language brokering in families and schools, but virtually nothing has been done to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the ability in children or adults is in fact inherited. Of course any research like that has to face the age-old problem of distinguishing between nature and nurture.

Conversion

Translation in everyday usage means reexpressing in another language. Some translatologists have extended its meaning to include reexpression in the same language or between varieties of the same language, commonly called paraphrase. Jakobson further extended its meaning to include intersemiotic translation, which means an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems, for example a book to film adaptation.  But that kind of intersemiotic translation still supposes verbal language as its point of  departure.

In 2009 on this blog I suggested that what bilinguals inherit which enables them to translate is not specifically a language competence but some more general ability which I called conversion. You can retrieve by entering conversion in the Search box on the right. Here’s the definition:

Conversion is the passage from a mental representation to another that preserves the information and feelings from the former which the converter wishes and has the capability to preserve.

Note that both the start and end of the process are mental representations, not verbalisations of them although they can be verbalised and often are.

This raises a series of questions.

The first is whether this general ability exists.

The second is, what is it if it exists?

The third is whether linguistic transformation is a specialisation of it.

The fourth is whether it’s inherited in whole or in part.

Certainly some thinkers have believed it exists in some form.  Seleskovitch thought that interpreters doing consecutive interpreting retain a deverbalized transform of what they hear because they can reproduce the content of a speech without being able to remember the actual words. She suggested it’s also the form in which the input is stored in long-term memory. (Actually interpreters do remember or note down some of the words, but she was largely right.) Other trainers of consecutive interpreters have devised sets of non-verbal  symbols and recommend against using representations of spoken speech like shorthand (which linguists call derived codes).

In these days of artificial intelligence, it may be tempting to think of the conversion level as patterns of neurons. This, however, does not accommodate summarising, which a recent post on this blog proposed is a type of translating and is often used by interpreters. (Enter summarising in the Search box to retrieve it.)

 Differences

Translators, even those in a supposedly well-defined category like professional translator, vary greatly. They may vary in respect of:

Age. From three to over 80. Age affects all human competences. In the case of translators it may affect general cognition as well as language proficiency, and both are needed.

Exposure. Like any human competence, translating can be learnt and improved by observing how other people do it, but the opportunities for doing so vary. I live in a bilingual area where there are examples of translations at every turn; somebody in a monolingual area would be handicapped.

Experience. Translating is a skill; and like any skill, the more you do it the better you get at it.

Training. By definition, natural translators have had no training at all. At the other extreme, an expert translator may have gone through years of training at school and university or in a translation organization. Gran and Fabbro found that translator training may even affect cerebral organization. They reported that fourth-year interpretation students, while maintaining left-hemisphere dominance for their L1 (Italian), showed significant right-hemisphere superiority for English as compared to first-year students and monolinguals.

Particularly dangerous is the practice of taking cohorts of university translation students as subjects. It’s done because they are readily accessible and can hardly refuse. A glaring example is the otherwise excellent study by Krings, who even used not translation students but language students. Students are an atypical intermediate breed. They are past the stage of natural translators but not yet at the level of experts.

QualityQuality of output is the usual criterion of competence. Other criteria such as speed of output are sometimes applied but they are secondary. However, judgements of translation quality are notoriously subjective and conditioned by cultures. The criteria applied to professional translators are not suitable for natural translators, and those applied to machine translation may not be suitable for human ones.

At very least researchers should declare the status of their subjects according to the above parameters.

Bitext

One of the first articles about the alignment of translations with their originals was the one on bitext listed below. The practical usefulness of such aligning was amply illustrated in the advent of translation memories and statistical machine translation. However,  another suggestion in the article was that bitext might be a model for how original and translation are held in the translator’s working memory. The psychological aspect of bitext has received scarcely any notice.


 Sources

Brian Harris and Bianca Sherwood. Translating as an innate skill. . In Language Interpretation and Communication, ed. D. Gerver and H. W. Sinaiko, New York/London, Plenum, 1978, pp. 155-170.

Roman Jakobson. On linguistic aspects of translation. In On Translation, ed. R.A. Brower, Harvard University Press, 1959, pp. 232-239.

L. Gran and F. Fabbro. The role of neuroscience in the teaching of interpretation. The Interpreters' Newsletter, no. 1, pp. 23-41, 1988.

Hans P. Krings. Was in den Köpfen von Übersetzern vorgeht / Eine empirische Untersuchung zur Struktur des Übersetzungsprozesses an fortgeschrittenen Franzözischlernern. (Tübinger Beiträge zur Linguistik 291). Tübingen: Narr, 1986.

Brian Harris. Bi-text, a new concept in translation theory, Language Monthly (UK), no. 54, March 1988, pp. 8-10.


Image

Source: SciTechDaily