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Edward Clay

The impact of AI on literary translation: assessing changes in translation theory, practice and creativity

In early 2020, we discussed the possibility of organizing a TRACT seminar series on machine translation (MT) of literary texts. Since then, this topic has been the subject of an ever-increasing number of conferences, articles and monographs. It is probably the spectacular “progress” of MT tools now available to the general public — in particular DeepL and Google Translate, taking advantage of recent advances in neural machine translation (NMT) — that has made it inevitable for the literary translation community to take this phenomenon into account.

            Indeed, these tools, especially because of their ability to process an impressive quantity of texts almost instantaneously, reinforce the idea that translation, i.e. going from one language to another, is quite a straightforward operation, the manifestation of a one-to-one relationship between two languages. This reflects a simplistic conception of language, seen as a code, which translators would simply have to decode and then re-encode, following transformation rules or algorithms.

            And this is precisely how the first translation machines were imagined and designed, before being supplanted by statistical translation, and then by so-called “neural” machine translation. However, the blatant failure of the first attempts at machine translation led to the total and brutal suppression of the budget allocated to this research in 1966 in the United States following the conclusions of the ALPAC report. On the other hand, the still perceptible imperfections of MT, based only on the statistical processing of huge parallel corpora, never seemed likely to call into question the role of human translators (otherwise called “bio-translators”). Until recently, only specialized or pragmatic translators often resorted to computer-assisted translation or CAT. However, with the rapid advent of CAT, even literary translators fear that their autonomy, their authorial status, their agency might be threatened. The creative dimension of their work, which translators have been claiming for so many years, is at risk of being forgotten and replaced by the ancillary activity of post-editing. Man at the service of the machine, so to speak.

            It is easy to see what advantages unscrupulous publishers could gain from this new situation. This is particularly true for so-called “genre literature” (fantasy, romance, sci-fi, etc.) that tends to follow repetitive and set patterns. The neural machine translation of fantasy or romance books, for example, would save a lot of time and therefore money, which would certainly change the practices of the publishing world.

            Faced with this situation, it seems that literary translation practitioners and theorists can no longer remain on the sidelines. “L’observatoire de la traduction automatique” [The Machine Translation Study Centre] set up in 2019 by ATLAS, the Association for the Promotion of Literary Translation, is a concrete example of this in France. It is not a question of adopting a defensive position, but of taking full account of the paradigm shift in translation that the emergence of NMT implies. In any case, it will not disappear and is even likely, according to some A.I. specialists, to make progress that could, in the long run, supplant bio-translators.

            That is why, beyond the fears aroused by NMT among translation professionals, and beyond the criticism of the quality of the translations it produces, we wish to question the shifts that NMT induces in our ways of considering translation. In other words, what NMT does to the concept of translation and, consequently, to translation theory — how our experience of translation, modified by the presence of the machine, necessarily affects the way we think about translation. Is the machine capable of capturing the singularity of an author's style, of what the author does with and to language? Can NMT find a strategy capable of restoring the complexity of the translation process, in one way or another? This leads us to a renewed questioning of what it means to “understand” a text, and more generally to “read” a text, especially if we consider with G. Steiner that “to understand is to translate”. Can we say that the machine reads the text in order to translate it the way the bio-translator does? Translating implies the implementation of an extremely refined form of thought. And this brings us back to the question posed by Alan Turing, one of the fathers of artificial intelligence (AI), back in 1950: "Can machines think?”

           How does the human translator understand the source text? Is reading the text to be translated different from reading for pleasure? How does the translator arrive at the target text, through hesitations, backtracking, dictionary consultations, etc.? Can research on the cognitive processes at work in human translators shed useful light on these questions?

Our seminar proposes to investigate the topic in three directions (which necessarily intersect at certain points):

  • We would like to introduce literary translators, Translation Studies specialists, researchers, students to the new tools coming from AI, CAT, NMT, enlightening them on how they work, the role of computational linguistics, cognitive science, neurosciences, their history, the perspectives of progress, their limits etc.
  • How does NMT measure up to literary texts; what challenges does literature — especially poetry — with its equivocation, ambiguities, enigmatic meanings, points of untranslatability pose to NMT? Conversely, what part can NMT, CAT tools, play in the renewal of literary creativity?
  • Does NMT effect a paradigm shift for translation? To what extent do omnipresent machines allow us to gain awareness of the fact that certain processes that used to be performed by expert translations only have now become automatic? What is the place of bio-translators? Do they become liberated or alienated by the machine (which cannot function without human-produced data)? In what way can the translators' lived experience of these changes help to map out a new paradigm, which includes but also exceeds the pragmatic dimension of this work?

As part of the above, the following questions might be addressed:

  • Could the new MT tools really replace human translators in the long run?
  • Consequences of and new directions in teaching translation at universities in the age of NLP
  • Can corpus translatology or CAT improve the quality of literary translations or retranslations?
  • To what extent are the practices of pragmatic translators transferable to literary translators?
  • Does the machine make the bio-translator an augmented or a diminished translator? What role for the machine, what role for the human?
  • How do NNT and CAT change the translator's relationship to the literary text, his or her reading of the text, and thus his or her engagement with the text?
  • Human/machine interaction in literary translation: is collaboration possible, desirable, or harmful?
  • Aren't literary translators in danger of being strongly encouraged by publishers to become specialized editors (development of post-editing)? Won't the machine reduce them to an ancillary function that they have been trying to free themselves from for decades?
  • Can't the machine become the ally of literary creativity, through the randomness it introduces into the translation, or through the formal constraints that can be instilled in it (rhymes and feet in the translation of poetry, for example)?
  • Isn't genre literature, which often responds to fairly formatted forms of writing (fantasy, romance, etc.) an ideal target for the development of NMT in the literary field?
  • What happens to the “translation project" — dear to Antoine Berman — if we entrust the text to a machine?
  • Does corpus stylistics allow us better to study and compare the translation strategies implemented by human translators? Is it relevant for comparing machine translation and bio-translation?
  • Does readers’ reception of literary texts differ depending on the modalities of their translation?

Deadline for abstracts: 6 June 2022

For more information, click here

The main aim of this hybrid Colloquium (in person and online) – which has shifted venue from edition to edition since 2016 – is to periodically offer an overview of the latest trends in the research on translation and gender around the world, with special emphasis on its cross-pollination with a number of disciplines, including but not limited to Translation Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Cultural and Media Studies, Sociology, Politics, Linguistics and Literary Criticism. Besides its overview of the growing diversity of research (both theoretical and practical) on translation and gender/sexuality/equality, the 5th edition of this Colloquium will have a thematic orientation focused on the role played by translation and interpreting as agents of resistance to and change of the dynamics between gender and power in society.  

The alliance between feminism(s) and translation has fostered the development of studies centred around agency and performativity of the individual, the translator or the interpreter and their role in society. In the 21st century, both feminism(s) and translation have become privileged spaces of agency, activism and resistance, thus becoming central to the identification and analysis of the strategies of subordination used to exercise social, political and cultural power.  

Starting from the work by Rebecca Ruth Gould and Kayvan Tahmasebian, The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism (2017), we intend to develop further the notion of the translator/interpreter as activist, namely as champion of political change, advocate of gender equality, promoter of gender diversity, voice-giver and helper of minorities, migrants and refugees, and agent of change capable of putting “into words the perspectives and experiences of oppressed and silenced peoples”. Our reflection also follows in the footsteps of Olga Castro and Emek Ergun’s research on Feminist Translation Studies. Local and Transnational Perspectives (2017) in order to widen the discussion on the interplay between feminist translation, agency and activism as academic fields of enquiry. 

The Colloquium aims at making visible the important role of interpreters and translators in: 1) promoting and enabling social, political and cultural change around the world; 2) promoting equality; 3) fighting discrimination; 4) supporting gender diversity; 5) supporting human rights; 6) empowering minorities; 7) challenging authority and injustice not only across European countries but all over the world; 8) facilitating network-building activities among activists and agents of change and 8) teaching feminist translation as a pedagogical act in support of social and gender equality. 

We are aware that translation is a powerful tool capable of producing social, political and cultural transformation. Thus, the Colloquium wants to open a forum of discussion and reflection on the contribution offered by practitioners, stakeholders and scholars to the study of translation as activism and agent of change.  

Deadline for submissions: 15 April 2022

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The University of Antwerp is a dynamic, forward-thinking, European university. We offer an innovative academic education to more than 20 000 students, conduct pioneering scientific research and play an important service-providing role in society. We are one of the largest, most international and most innovative employers in the region. With more than 6000 employees from 100 different countries, we are helping to build tomorrow's world every day. Through top scientific research, we push back boundaries and set a course for the future – a future that you can help to shape. 

The Department of Applied Linguistics / Translation and Interpreting in the Faculty of Arts has the following full-time vacancy: tenured senior academic staff in the field of translation studies French-Dutch

Deadline for applications: 28 March 2022

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The European Association for Machine Translation (EAMT) invites everyone interested in machine translation and translation-related tools and resources ― developers, researchers, users, translation and localization professionals and managers ― to participate in this conference.

Driven by the state of the art, the research community will demonstrate their cutting-edge research and results. Professional machine translation users will provide insight into successful MT implementation of machine translation (MT) in business scenarios as well as implementation scenarios involving large corporations, governments, or NGOs. Translation studies scholars and translation practitioners are also invited to share their first-hand MT experience, which will be addressed during a special track.

Deadline for submissions: 25 March 2022

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The Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC) is pleased to announce that the CIUTI International Conference will take place for the first time in Lima and Latin America in 2022. CIUTI gathers a group of universities distinguished for their outstanding quality in research and translation and interpreting training.

National and regional processes designed to ensure access to information and public services leverage translation and interpreting (T&I) to promote citizens' rights. The state’s fight against marginalization and poverty and promotion of fundamental rights is continually buffeted by constant tension between both able-bodied and disabled citizens, and their economic activities as these citizens seek access to information, public services, and equality in all its forms. Language services are fundamental to the promotion of human rights in all of these scenarios, even though these services can also be a potential source of inequality.

Deadline for submissions: 26 March 2022

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The School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Warwick invites applications for two outstanding Assistant Professors in Translation and Transcultural Studies. We especially welcome applications from candidates with a proven record of, or clear potential for, addressing cultural, theoretical, or practical dimensions of audiovisual translation and/or translation and technology.

The successful candidates will play a full part in School and sub-department activity, with a remit to develop and help to deliver UG and PG degree-level quality provision in translation and transcultural studies. They will be expected to contribute actively to our UG modules, to our MA in Translation and Cultures and to our PhD in Translation and Transcultural Studies.

Deadline for applications: 13 March 2022

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The department Survey Design & Methodology (SDM) is both nationally and internationally recognized for its expertise in survey methodology, gained over many years by conducting own research as well as consulting on and implementing renowned survey projects.

The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically driven cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe regarding long-term changes in attitude and behaviour of Europe’s population. The advertised position is part of the third-party funded project European Social Survey (ESS ERIC) in the field of questionnaire translation.

Your tasks will be:

  • Further development and enhancement of the translation tool “TranslationCTRL”, used in the ESS, in collaboration with programmers; supporting the national ESS translation teams using this tool
  • Collaboration in the various ongoing tasks of the ESS Workpackage “Questionnaire Translation”; this includes, amongst others, drafting guidance and training material, providing consultancy on translatability of source questionnaires based on specific language families, as well as preparation and follow-up on international meetings

Your profile:

  • University degree (Master or corresponding level) in Translation, Linguistics or another relevant field
  • Familiarity with Computer-Aided Translation Tools. Good knowledge of Machine Translation and Post-Editing is an advantage
  • Practical experience in translation and especially translation of questionnaires is an advantage
  • Very good command of spoken and written English (C1 or higher) as well as at least one additional European language
  • Interest in working in an interdisciplinary research environment

Deadline for applications: 20 Feb 2022

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A fixed-term 100 % position is available at the University of Agder, Faculty of Humanities and Education, as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow affiliated to the Department of Foreign Languages and Translation, for a period of two years. The position is located at the University of Agder’s Kristiansand campus. The starting date is according to agreement. About the Faculty:
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The position is affiliated with the research group Agder Forum for Translation Studies (AFO): The research group was established in 2019 and is in a process involving both expansion and consolidation as it establishes itself in national and international arenas. The fellowship will contribute to further strengthening the research activity of the group.

Deadline for applications: 10 March 2022

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A full-time, indivisible, position in the field of Translation from Spanish into French, within the
Department of Modern Languages: Linguistics, Literature and Translation. This post includes teaching,
research and services to the Community.

Teaching activities:
TRAD0074-1 Contrastive Spanish-French linguistics (30 h)
TRAD0073-1 Theory and Practice of Translation from Spanish into French I (30 h)
TRAD0076-1 Theory and Practice of Translation from Spanish into French II (30 h)
TRAD0118-1 Specialised translation from Spanish into French: culture and literature (30h)
- Literary translation
TRAD0160-1– Spanish - General Translation into French and Sight Translation (60 h)
- Spanish - General translation into French
- Spanish-French sight translation
LROM9028-2 Spanish language II (75 h)

Research Activities:
Research and publications in an area relating to the workload. Affiliation to a research unit, where

Deadline for applications: 1 March 2022

For more information, click here

Special Issue in The Translator, edited by Cornelia Zwischenberger and Leandra Sitte

Several relatively new forms of translation have emerged following the advent of the participatory Web 2.0. These include solicited forms of translation such as translation crowdsourcing used by for-profit companies like Facebook or Twitter. There are also other forms of translation like machine translation or self-translation occurring on social media platforms, especially on newer representatives like Instagram or TikTok (Desjardins 2019). Translation crowdsourcing is also employed by non-profit organizations like TED or Kiva. While these companies or organizations recruit voluntary and unpaid translators, there are also several translation platforms such as Gengo or Unbabel which employ paid translation crowdsourcing at below market rates (Jiménez-Crespo 2021). Furthermore, these relatively new forms of translation also include a wide range of unsolicited and self-managed types of translation such as interlingual knowledge-sharing through Wikipedia (Jones 2017, 2019; McDonough Dolmaya 2015, 2017) or Yeeyan (Yang 2020) as well as the various types of online fan translations such as fansubbing, fandubbing, scanlations or translation hacking (Fabbretti 2019; Lee 2009; Orrego-Carmona 2019; Muñoz Sánchez 2007, 2009).

Even though these more recent phenomena and the communities involved in the translation process have caught the attention of Translation Studies scholars and have been studied from multiple perspectives, two lacunae have been identified by Zwischenberger (2021). Firstly, there is no consensus as to what constitutes the most appropriate top-level concept for these translation phenomena. Several candidates are currently being used concomitantly, including online collaborative translation, voluntary translation, user-generated translation (UGT), and social online translation, to name but a few. Secondly, research into the ethical implications of these online translation practices is lacking in depth and number. Ethical issues are only rarely addressed directly in the relevant literature and if so they are addressed only in passing. The special issue will tackle these two lacunae, with the groundwork having already been laid by our one-day symposium Translation on and over the Web: Disentangling its conceptual uncertainties and ethical questions, held in November 2021.

Deadline for submissions: 30 April 2022

For more information, click here

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