Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Kings, Poets, and Horses:
Interpretation, Machine Translation, and Context
Professor Roger T Bell
Professor of Linguistics (retired)
University of Westminster
Date: 3 September 2010, Friday
Time: 2:30 - 4:00pm [revised]
Venue: B7516 (SA Conference Room), 7/F, Lift 3, Blue Zone, Academic Building, CityU [revised]
Those promoting Machine Translation ask us to believe that (at some unspecified point in the near future) computers will be able to translate (and, indeed, interpret) as well as humans currently can.
The purpose of this paper is not to adopt a neo-Luddite position and reject this assumption out of hand but to ask the practical question “what does the computer need to know in order to do this?” and offer the answer “context”.
The lacuna between what the computer currently “knows” (and can do) and what is needed is demonstrated by presenting and evaluating several attempts at translating a very short 1000-year-old poem in a little known language into a world language: English.
Roger Bell is Professor of Linguistics (retired), University of Westminster. His initial background was in History and his interests quickly changed to Linguistics while teaching English and translating in Rome in the early 60s. In 1965, during his appointment as a lecturer at the new University of Lancaster, this interest expanded to encompass Linguistics in relation to English in general and sociolinguistics and FLT in particular. In 1984, he was appointed Professor of Linguistics in the Faculty of Languages at the University of Westminster where his responsibilities included leading Translation Studies in a number of language pairs, and directing the Postgraduate Diploma in Technical and Specialised Translation and the only AIIC recognized qualification in Conference Interpreting in the UK at the time.
Since 1997, he has been living in Kuala Lumpur where he continues research and teaching Linguistics. His current research is focused on investigating the nature of the translator in relation to such issues as professionalism and professionalization. A particular concern is with the auditing and certification of Translation Service Providers (TSPs) in terms of an international standard (EN15038): a process within which he is presently a trainee auditor himself. His publications include Translation and Translating: Theory and Practice (1991) which has been translated into several languages, including Chinese (2005).