National Academies Press: OpenBook

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

Chapter: The Crucial Problems of Translation

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Suggested Citation:"The Crucial Problems 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:"The Crucial Problems 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 17
Suggested Citation:"The Crucial Problems 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 18

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The Crucial Problems of Translation There is no emergency in the field of translation. The problem is not to meet some nonexistent need through nonexistent machine translation. There are, however, several crucial problems of trans- lation. These are quality, speed, and cost. QUALITY The Committee believes strongly that the quality of translation must be adequate to the needs of the requester. The production of a flawless and polished translation for a user-limited readership is wasteful of both time and money. On the other hand, production of an inferior translation when one of archival quality is called for is even more wasteful of resources. It seems clear to the Com- mittee that, in many cases, translations of adequate quality are not being provided. Despite the fact that adequate quality is essential, the govern- ment has no reliable way to measure the quality of translation. In view of this, one member of the Committee has set up an experi- ment in the evaluation of quality. This work is described briefly in Appendix 10. A reliable way to measure quality would be of great importance in determining proper cost of translation. The correla- tion between cost and quality is far from precise. Concerning this correlation, we quote from the presentation made to the Committee on September 30, 1964, by Dr. Kurt Gingold, President of the American Translators Association: There is no absolute correlation between cost and quality. There are some excellent translators who charge moderate rates. while some incom- petents manage—at least temporarily—to charge much higher prices. Such correlation as exists is probably better at the low than at the high end; in other words, a cheap translation is almost always defective in some way, while an expensive translation is not always of superior quality. By and large, however, one gets what one pays for. 16

SPEED Reasonable speed and promptness are essential in translation. The Committee is convinced that in this regard there is considerable room for improvement. Of 2,258 scientists responding to a questionnaire concerning translated Soviet journals, 1,407 commented on lag time of publica- tion; 24.5 percent of the comments were to the effect that lag time should be reduced (American Use of Translated Soviet Scientific Journals, a user study prepared by the Syracuse University Re- search Institute for the National Science Foundation and available from the Clearinghouse for Federal Scientific and Technical Infor- mation, Report No. TT- 65- 6402 6) . The lag time (from receipt) for the average document processed by the AN/GSQ-16 (X~7-2) Automatic Language Translator of the USAF Foreign Technology Division (FTD) is 109 days (44 days for high-priority items). Also at FTD, the average processing time for documents translated by outside contractors was usually 65 days plus 1.3 days for each 1,000 words of Russian translated. The most rapid translation service offered on a customary basis at regular prices that has come to the attention of the Committee is that of the Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS), which guarantees 50 pages in 15 days, 100 pages in 30 days. The lag time (from receipt) in publication of the translated journals supported by NSF ranges from 15 to 26 weeks. On the average, half of this lag is accounted for by time spent in trans- lation and editing (Appendix 6, Table 3~. Thus, we see that many of the delays in "translation" do not lie in the process of translation itself, but rather in time spent in editing and production, and sometimes in avoidable delays. In the FTD machine-aided translation, the delays are in production and postediting, together with the delays caused by queues in the many operations that must be done in tandem in this particular form of machine-aided translation. It should be mentioned that for high-priority items extra fast translation service can be had by splitting long texts into segments, or by paying an additional fee that may range from 25 to 50 percent of the base rate or even higher, depending on the particular circumstances. COST Cost is important because in many cases it is the only measure the government can sensibly use in deciding how its translation is to ~7

be done. As we have seen, it varies considerably—from $9 to $66 per 1,000 words. Machines are probably inappropriate for some forms of translations, such as very high-quality diplomatic trans- lation and literary translation. But translations of scientific mate- rial can be done with or without machine aids. As to quality and speed, at extra cost, better quality and higher speed can be attained if long texts are split into segments. Thus, cost for a particular result is the criterion that the government should apply in deciding on means of translation. (See Appendix 9 for estimates of the costs of various types of translation.) 18

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