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Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics (1966)

Chapter: Regarding a Possible Excess of Translation

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Suggested Citation:"Regarding a Possible Excess of Translation." National Research Council. 1966. Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9547.
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Suggested Citation:"Regarding a Possible Excess of Translation." National Research Council. 1966. Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9547.
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"Regarding a Possible Excess of Translation." National Research Council. 1966. Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9547.
Page 15

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Regarding a Possible Excess of Translation While the Committee is not concerned with any lack of translation, it does have some concern about a possible excess of translation. Translation of material for which there is no definite prospective reader is not only wasteful, but it clogs the channels of translation and information flow. Routine translation should be confined to journals or books with reasonably assured paid circulation and additional translations should be nude only in response to specific requests. In support of this position we quote from a letter re- ceived by the Committee from a research organization of the Department of Defense: We have found that the available translation services generally do not cover our technical areas to the depth that we require for our studies. As a result, we are continually putting in requests for translations of additional journal articles and such things as Soviet patents. Our problem has been the inability to obtain quick reaction to these special requests and it is this factor that has hampered rather than limited our world. If we had one reco~- mendation to make to a survey such as yours, it would be that, a better bal- ance should be established between what is routinely translated and the special translation requests of users. We have found that many articles are being translated in our area that do not warrant the effort and it appears to us that some of the routine translations could be abandoned in order to make more translation services available for quick reaction to special requests. It is possible that the cover-to-cover translations contain, in addition to much valuable information, many uninspired research reports that the U.S. scientist could have been mercifully spared. An interesting study, conducted in 19 62, investigated the value of the articles contained in the Soviet journals translated in the National Library of Medicine/Public Health Service translation program Report of Study of NLM/PHS Russian Translation Program (Contract PH-86-62-9), Institute for Advancement of Medical Com- munication (Jan. 15, 1 9 62 )] . The method of evaluation used was 13

parallel editorial refereeing of the Soviet articles by counterpart American journals. Copies of the translated articles were sent to the editors in chief of counterpart American journals for distribu- tion to their referees. The preliminary results were as follows. Of the total of 36 articles taken from two issues of the Sechenov Physiological Journal of the USSR, 31 percent were judged accept- able for publication in the American Journal of Physiology or the Journal of Applied Physiology. Of the total of 41 articles taken from two issues of Biophysics (USSR), 23 percent were judged acceptable for publication in the Biophysical Journal. In addition the referees indicated that another eight articles should be acceptable to the appropriate American journal. Of the 25 papers taken from two issues of Problems of Oncology, 76 percent were considered acceptable to Cancer. The referees indicated that another two articles would have been acceptable at one time but "would not now be considered new enough to merit publication." Further endence of a possible excess of translation is to be found in The Need for Soviet Translations Among American Chemists, a report to the American Chemical Society by Herner and Company (June 4, 1962~: On the other hand, the biggest argument that the respondents had with the translations presently available to them was not with their quality but with time lags in their issuance. The translation process—particularly when cover-to-cover translations are involved—is a relatively slow one. In view of the finding of the medical editors, one might well wonder whether a relatively high proportion of mediocre or inferior papers are not delaying the appearance of a small proportion of superior and significant papers. Perhaps even more revealing than the specifically stated reasons for nonuse of Soviet translations are the answers to the question in the ques- tionnaire in regard to preferred media for receiving Soviet scientific information. Three methods outranked all others. These were: English- language abstracts of Russian publications, regular English-language reviews of Soviet developments in specific fields, and translations of indi- vidual articles as needed. These three methods are of course not mutually exclusive but complementary. Interestingly, the number of respondents who preferred to get their Soviet information in the form of cover-to-cover translations was only half the number who preferred to get their transla- tions as needed. . . . The only things that might be done to round out the Soviet coverage that is presently available in chemistry is, first, to make sure that Soviet papers that are worthwhile in the opinion of the abstracters or editors are given detailed abstracting because they are likely not to be readily available in English; second to provide means of obtaining cheap copies of cited Soviet papers, possibly through the Chemical Abstracts Service; and third 14

to develop a mechanism for making selected translations available on re- quest, again possibly through the Chemical Abstracts Service. All three areas of improvement would probably require subsidization by the Govern- ment. However, it would probably mean a far smaller expenditure than would be required to support an expanded program of cover-to-cover trains rations. It would also probably produce a far greater return. It is the Committee's belief that the total technical literature does not merit translation, and it is futile to try to guess what someone may at some time want translated. The emphasis should be on speed, quality, and economy in supplying such translations as are requested. A service such as the Joint Publications Research Service, which charges the user for a translation, is less conducive to translation without use than is a service such as the U.S. Air Force Systems Command's Foreign Technology Division, which supplies translations free within certain areas. 15

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