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The ProZ.com translation contest The Sounds of Silencestarted its Qualification phase today. Voting is open in 28 language pairs to select the best translations, and rating and commenting is being held in another 40 pairs to define finalists.
Singapore is an immigrant country with four official languages: English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin. Officially, English is the most commonly spoken language in Singaporean homes, having recently and just barely edged out Mandarin. Unofficially? That’s completely wrong. Because what’s likely the actual most common language spoken does not appear on the census. That language is called Singlish.
Singlish is spoken across all ethnic groups in Singapore, even across economic strata. But the government hates it. Since the year 2000, the Singaporean government has been conducting a campaign called the “Speak Good English Movement,” which is specifically designed to discourage the use of Singlish and encourage the use of standard English.
Interestingly, the Singaporean government does not have a firm definition of what “standard English” means; they aren’t strictly teaching British Received Pronunciation or New England Prep School English or Australian English or anything else. By “standard,” they seem to simply mean “English that can be readily understood by English speakers outside Singapore.”
As we spoke, it soon became clear that Túpac Yupanqui’s mission was, if anything, even bolder and slightly more harebrained—dare I say quixotic?—than the one I had come to interview him about. His translation of Don Quixote was simply the best-known example of his decades-long effort to create a standardized literary Quechua and leave millions of Peruvian schoolchildren with an alternative to what he calls the “language of the invader.” That Spanish has been the definitive language of Peruvian law and literature since the mid-sixteenth century didn’t seem to strike him as a particularly onerous obstacle.
“No language spontaneously produces its own literature,” Túpac Yupanqui told me. “If you know how to read and write, it’s because someone taught you.”
Here’s a great write up about Túpac Yupanqui, who brought Don Quixote to the Quechua language, over on Words without Borders:
Imagine you’re driving in a foreign country and a police officer stops you on the road. You don’t speak the cop’s language and they don’t speak yours, so a halting exchange ensues using a laptop and Google Translate. You’re not always sure what the officer is asking, and you end up agreeing to something you didn’t quite understand, and are arrested.
That’s what happened to Omar Cruz-Zamora, a Mexican native in the US on a legal visa, in Kansas last September. Based on a typed exchange using Google Translate, he agreed to let police search his car—he wasn’t legally required to—and was arrested for possession of 14 pounds of cocaine and methamphetamines. On June 4, a Kansas court granted Cruz-Zamora’s motion to suppress the evidence, finding Google Translate isn’t good enough for constitutional search purposes.
For those not familiar, a ProZ.com powwow is an informal, local get-together of language professionals. Any ProZ.com member can propose and organize a powwow in their area. Since 2001, thousands of powwows have been held around the world, in 110 countries.
So far, 454 powwows have been held in 63 cities in the UK, with 3,748 attendees total. At least 50 of those powwows have been organized by Victoria Burnsand Alexandra Chapman. This May 5th, Alexandra and Victoria are celebrating 10 years of powwows in Cardiff by holding — you guessed it — another powwow!
I asked Alexandra and Victoria to talk a bit about how the Cardiff powwows got started, what the experience has been like, and what benefits they have been able to see from coming together in person with colleagues. Here is what they had to say:
Celebrating ten years of powwows in Cardiff is a great opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come. Vicky and I met at the first Cardiff powwow, which came about as a result of Cardiff-based translators Vicky and Trinidad Clares meeting at an earlier powwow in nearby Bristol, back in May 2008 and immediately hit it off. We had both started translating the previous year, Vicky full time after deciding to finally bite the bullet and leave her job in export sales and me more gradually as my daughter started playschool. We had both studied languages at school and university, shared a love of travelling and hoped that a powwow would offer social opportunities to enhance our more solitary professional lives. It did that and more!
To date we’ve organised over 50 powwows between us with other local translators organising at least another 50 in that time. We’ve had attendees from all over the world with a wide variety of language combinations and we’ve heard about powwows in other countries where minutes are taken or talks are given. Ours are more informal, usually a meal or drinks in a city centre bar or restaurant where we chat about current projects, share tips on translation issues and plan our next social gathering. We’ve grown into a group of fifteen or twenty regulars of many different nationalities and we’re joined by new people almost every time we meet, usually on the first Saturday of the month. There’s been a Christmas powwow every year and often a summer picnic. We’ve celebrated birthdays, weddings and baby showers, with more and more children joining the scene, not to mention Vicky’s dog Alfie. Recently, we even arranged a Mother’s Day powwow and brought our mums along! That’s something we may now find we have to make an annual event….
We travel further afield together too, organising a bunkhouse weekend and camping on the Gower Peninsula and attending translation conferences in Berlin (ELIA), Brescia (MET) and Vienna (BP18). Regular powwow attendee Juliet Haydock owns a house in Capena, near Rome, and that’s become a regular destination for some sunshine and co-working.
Perhaps the greatest outcome of the Cardiff powwows has been the foundation of ITI Cymru Wales, the Welsh network of the Institution of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), the UK’s professional association for practising translators and interpreters. Although founders Trinidad Clares and Elvana Moore initially met at a powwow in nearby Bristol, it was the Cardiff powwows that formed the recruitment ground for at least 28 of the current membership of 40, of which 15 to date (including Vicky and me) have taken the prestigious MITI assessment to become qualified members of the organisation. Its aims are to promote the highest standards within the profession by supporting on-going career development for language professionals and to represent the sector at the very highest level. When the ITI Conference was held in Cardiff in 2017, our members, who had met through the Cardiff powwows, played key roles in welcoming delegates to the city and organising fringe events alongside the informative talks.
Under this same banner, the Cardiff co-working sessions have become a weekly fixture, thanks to the organisational efforts of local boy Lloyd Bingham. We bring our laptops to a central café and work alongside each other, building ever-greater potential for professional collaboration. As several of us translate from German, another regular Andrew Godfrey recently initiated a Peer Review Group, where we all translate a text and then meet to discuss the relative merits of our different versions. It’s rather like a translation slam and is a great way to pick up new ideas for those ‘untranslatable’ expressions. We pick up new clients from powwow contacts too, stepping in when someone is on holiday and likewise passing on work in return, as I did when I was on maternity leave. This close collaboration is possible not only because of the trust brought about by friendship but also because of our mutual professional respect. As a group, we take the opportunity to learn from one another, rather than considering other translators to be competitors, and this mutual inspiration and support brings out the best in us all.
We’ve come a long way since that first Cardiff powwow, and have plenty of exciting things in the pipeline for this year, including our 10th anniversary powwow in May, to which everyone who has attended a Cardiff powwow over the past 10 years has been invited, the seemingly now-annual summer picnic, another bunkhouse powwow and potentially a Cardiff translators’ ski trip next winter – our first ‘international’ powwow!
The on-going benefits are clear to see and they play a crucial role in our success as translators. What started as a simple lunch is now a fully-fledged network of high-calibre professionals even greater than the sum of its parts. If you’ve tended to shy away from networking, maybe it’s time to give it a try. And if there’s nothing in your area, setting something up is straightforward using either the ProZ.com powwow system or another social media channel. Meeting for lunch might just be the best thing you ever did for your career!
Well, there you have it! Congratulations to Victoria and Alexandra, to all the language professionals who have contributed to making these get-togethers a success, and have an excellent anniversary powwow!
If you are wondering whether there are extraordinary colleagues like these in your area, chances are there are– it’s simply a question of getting the ball rolling, and good things can happen.
According to this article, The European commission’s proposed budget for 2021-27 confirms that the EU has no intention to reduce the use of English in its meetings or documents. “Translation and interpretation services in the English language will also remain unaffected.”
NPR has been celebrating National Poetry Month in the US on Twitter, using the hashtag #NPRPoetry. A recent post posed the question of whether poetry can be translated or if “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Poet and translator Aaron Coleman translates one of the poetry submissions and discusses his method.
“I approach translation even knowing that it can’t quite be what it is in the original language,” he says.
The language lapses that inhibit an ideal interpretation can ultimately be “a creative, productive failure,” he adds. “Maybe it can open up a new way for us to see what can happen in English and what can happen in Spanish, for me, or whatever the original language is.”
Instead, translation can be transformation. “I think we all want to have translation work as a process of reproduction, but it’s really a process of transformation,” Coleman says.
World Book Day is April 23rd. To celebrate, Amazon is offering a selection of award-winning works from around the world, all of which have been translated to English, for free for Kindle. You can grab them between now and April 24th at https://www.amazon.com/article/read-the-world
(there may be geographical or other limits on who can get these books for free– apparently they are free to US-based customers, and discounted in other regions)
Among the books, I spotted The Light of the Fireflies, by Paul Pen and translated by ProZ.com member Simon Bruni.
In relation to Amazon’s new service, Amazon Translate, One Hour Translation has been announced as partner in the delivery of Neural Machine Translation (NMT) services to enterprise customers. From the press release:
One Hour Translation, the world’s leading hybrid translation agency and largest online translation agency, announced that Amazon has selected it as a key partner to deliver Neural Machine Translation (NMT) based solutions to enterprise customers.
NMT is a revolutionary technology allowing computers to perform human-like translations that make sense.
One Hour Translation combines Neural Machine Translation (NMT) technology with human post-editing and quality control, delivering high-quality human level translation, that costs much less and is done much faster than the human only alternative.
OHT is already using the Amazon NMT engine to improve the translation efficiency of enterprise customers such as iHerb, a world leader in food supplements, and other customers.
OHT allows business customers to fully leverage and benefit from the powerful NMT technology. OHT’s software is connected to all the top NMT engines, and adds a multi-step, streamlined process, before and after the NMT stage itself in order to provide business customers with a complete end-to-end solution.
Using One Hour Translation, business customers can send up to hundreds of thousands of projects in parallel for translation. The OHT hybrid system will select, on the fly, the most appropriate NMT engine, as well as the required pre-processing, post-editing, and quality control measures needed in order to deliver high-quality translation to business customers.
“Hybrid NMT based systems are the future of professional translation services,” says Ofer Shoshan, founder & CEO of One Hour Translation. “OHT’s hybrid translation system allows our top customers to receive high quality translations at a fraction of the cost and time of human only translation. We see growing interest from customers in hybrid translations and we have enterprise customers who are already using it,” added Shoshan. “We believe in NMT and will announce new NMT related products and services in the next few weeks,” he concluded.
Just as services like Google Maps have made it easier to get around, at home or abroad, some advances in translation tech are making it easier to travel in places where one may not know the language.
Right now this translation tech is still in its infancy and primarily eases logistical complexities. With Google Translate, you can point your camera at a street sign to verify it says “Downtown This Way” and not “There Be Dragons.” The same app can quickly translate a menu—if not always perfectly, then well enough to be sure that you’re ordering chicken.
The article goes on to consider how far this technology might improve, up to a future where we’re all wearing earpieces and hearing or being simultaneously interpreted for in our conversations. Sound familiar?
Microsoft Translator has been upgraded to offer artificial intelligence (AI) powered offline language packs across all Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire devices. The AI-powered offline language packs were previously limited to devices with a dedicated AI chip. However, Microsoft engineers have now leveraged edge computing to bring AI-backed neural machine translation (NMT) to the masses. The Translator team is also in plans to bring the new experience to Windows devices in the coming future.
The Redmond company in 2016 built its NMT model for online use only as it required high-quality translation models. But in 2017, the experience debuted on select Android devices that are equipped with a dedicated AI chip. It brought offline translation quality in line with the quality offered by the original online neural translation model. And now, the Translator team has optimised the initial offline-specific algorithms to bring language packs irrespective of any particular hardware.
Artificial Intelligence is not quite ready to take jobs from capable human interpreters/translators. At the recent Boao Forum for Asia, one company debuted an AI system designed to provide interpreting and transcripts, only to have the system produce a mix of mistranslations, repeated words and garbled characters in the live demonstration.
The makers of the software admitted to the mistakes, pointing out that the AI “is still learning and growing” and would continue to improve over time.
Amazon announced this month it was releasing “Amazon Translate”. From the announcement:
Today we’re excited to make Amazon Translate generally available. Late last year at AWS re:Invent my colleague Tara Walker wrote about a preview of a new AI service, Amazon Translate. Starting today you can access Amazon Translate in US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), and EU (Ireland) with a 2 million character monthly free tier for the first 12 months and $15 per million characters after that. There are a number of new features available in GA: automatic source language inference, Amazon CloudWatch support, and up to 5000 characters in a single TranslateText call.
“What is it like to live day-to-day as a translator? What are the worries and the stresses, the pleasures and the reliefs? How does a translator get by, and where do her projects fit into the rest of her life? In this new year-long feature, translator Emma Ramdan gives us some answers by keeping an open diary about a year her life.”
If you are interested in reading fiction where translators are among the protagonists, you may want to check out this review of five different novels, originally written in Spanish but also available in an English translation: