Monday, October 19, 2015

Is Translation Really Art or Maths?

I am often asked this question in my travels and line of work. The answer appears obvious to the traditionalists, it’s art, but for others translation is a line of code and an algorithm on a screen and that’s pure maths, not art. So why should we even concern ourselves with this debate, why does it matter? Well, the answer to this question provides an insight into the industry that we work in. The purists may not be happy with the answer.

The Art of Translation

Translators are passionate about what they do, and if there beginnings were anything like mine, they are sparked from an early age with the intrigue of the languages and travel. Translators have study languages at school, then moved onto university before progressing to acquire industry accreditation. It’s a path of love taken by those passionate about language that want to immerse themselves in it.
The artistic output of a translator's work is their written prose. Presented with a piece of text, their work is to craft a piece of text from one language to another. Localization is the art of the translator, the keyboard their canvas and language pairs their subjects.

The Science and Maths of Translation

Technology, programs, software and apps impact on virtually every aspect of our lives. Translation is no different, and if you ask the programmers, it’s here to take over. Linguistic skills are not needed to aid in the programming of translation software, some say they actually hinder the process. Mathematical rules, algorithms and programs rule in this industry and Google is the leader of the pack. Google Translate is used one billion times per day, in a typical month 500 million different people will use it.


Staggering numbers like these reflect people’s needs for instant translation and a global marketplace that doesn’t see languages as a barrier. The human translators, the artists of this industry, rule for now but the maths driven machines offers the scalability and efficiency needed to fuel the future.

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