How Has Language Translation Evolved, What Is The Future?


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A Synopsis Of Translation

  • One topic that can’t really be specified on how long it’s existed is exactly what you thought, translation has over time been the topic that has been debated on by scholars and historians, though it is widely accepted that translation pre-dates the bible. The Bible talks about different languages and giving insight into interactions between people of different languages.
  • The need for translation has been apparent since the earliest days of human interaction, whether it be for emotional trade or survival purposes. Over time, the demand for translation services has really increased, and this is because different entities in life have been trying to expand in different regions with a different spoken language which has been promoted by translation so much that with the need of penetration to foreign markets, marketing material and business documents need to also be translated.

The Early History of Translation

  • Throughout history, when speaking about translations, there are two terms that come to mind and I will elaborate on them first before I continue with this write-up. The word ‘translation’ comes from a Latin term which means “to bring or carry across” while the other relevant word is in relation to those words is from the Ancient Greek word of ‘metaphrasis’ which means “to speak across” and from this, the term ‘metaphrase’ was born, which means a “word-for-word translation”.
  • Through the translation works some argue repeatedly that the knowledge and finding of Greek academics resulted from the translation work of Arabic scholars. It is believed that back then when the Greeks were conquered most of their works if not all were taken by the Arabic scholars who in turn translated them and made them their own. This was done for the scientific, entertainment and philosophical works. After that translation continued and the Arabic translation was further translated into Latin during the Middle Ages, mostly throughout Spain and the resulting works provided the foundations of Renaissance academics. With the beginning of translation in ancient Greek, this opened a way for it to continue into religious translations and texts which I will elaborate on further below.

Religious Translations and Text

  • As a greater audience grew for religious texts and spiritual texts across the board, so did translation, which became greater and greater. The desire to spread religion to and inspire people through faith and gospel of God, the need for the religious texts to be translated into more languages in order for people to understand became even higher. The very first translated religious texts is believed to have been the Old Testament which was translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC. This particular translation refers to the ‘Septuagint’, which was a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, with Septuagint coming from the Latin word ‘Septuaginta’, which means seventy. This text is therefore often referred to as the ‘Greek Old Testament’.  It’s incredible how lack of modern practices and tools this translation was carried out by approximately 70 scholars who through a lot of difficulties we’re able to translate and convert the text into Greek and this became the basis for future translations of the bible in multiple languages.
  • From this, we can see how important the role religion played in the development of translation was. This led to the church naming Saint Jerome as the patron saint of translation who later created a Latin Bible in the 4th century AD. That’s the bible that present-day Catholic church members use. Different churches started coming up, and the need to translate the religious texts to European languages heightened. From the protestant church to the Pentecostal to the seventh day Adventist church, there was a huge need for the religious texts to be translated. It was clear though that the two main churches were Roman Catholicism and Protestantism who have a different disparity in texts and major differences between crucial words and passages in the Bible.

Famous Language Translators Throughout Time.

Translation is the job that doesn’t need people who do it to be known or in the limelight. As much as a lot of work does really go into the services they provide, most of them are not known and since long ago many people have been doing translations. In this segment, I’ll be able to mention a couple of people who have paved the way for present-day translators with the overly incredible dissemination of ideas and knowledgeable theories they presented over the years. The lists include translators like: –

  1. William Tyndale, who was executed in a small town in Belgium in 1536 with his crime being that he translated the Bible to the English language. He literally died fighting for his faith, which is a classic understanding of what being a martyr is. Tyndale who was an English scholar will go down in history as one pioneer in translating the Bible into the English language, as we have it now. He died on October 1536, near Vilvoorde Duchy of Brabant.
  2. Chinese monk Xuanzang who in 645 AD was credited with having translated 74 volumes on Indian Buddhist scripts into Chinese. He was a scholar and a translator who traveled to India in the seventh century and described the interactions between Chinese Buddhism and Indian Buddhism during the early Tang dynasty. He dies on 5th February 664 AD, in Yintai District. Tongchuan China.
  3. Constance Garnett was a British translator in the nineteenth-century Russian literature who translated Russian classics including Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev, and Gogol into English towards the end of the 19th Century. He died on 17th December 1946 in Crockham Hill, United Kingdom.
  4. Gregory Rabassa was an American literary translator who translated many Latin documents into English throughout the 20th Century. He was a lecturer for many years at Columbia University and Queens College. He died on 13th June 2016 in Branford, Connecticut, United States.

Modern-Day Language Translation Practices and Understanding.

  • Fast forward from the Industrial revolution of translation, the economy developed at a quick rate and evolved into a machine with potential for global success. New machinery with applicable and useful software allowed for production of texts and documents to be fast and the business-related materials, which meant that more time could be invested in evolving a company and translating material to enter foreign markets.  Since the 18th Century, a new and evolved form of translation was experienced which formalized translation services, but the dawn of modern practice came with the widespread introduction of the internet.
  • The internet has really brought about easy access to a lot of translated texts and even made it possible for one to get direct word-for-word translations in different languages. This has promoted the ability to understand and comprehend texts and documents from all over the world, be it contemporary or historical pieces. Crucially, there has been a huge growth in people feeling the need to understand the culture of the original country and that of the audience which is being targeted with any material being translated. This has all been made by enhanced tools and practices.
  • As much as word-for-word translation can lose meaning along the way the mere fact that one can have a translation app for many languages and the tip of their hands only means that the art of translation has really come of age and no one will be killed like how William Tyndale was when he translated the Bible to the English language in the 1536.
  • Although some instant translation services are capable only of metaphase translation (literal word-for-word translation), specialist firms, platforms, and translators can translate texts and spoken word into multiple languages whilst observing the relevance and culture of the target receiver.
  • The availability of the internet has really made the world a global village where anyone and everyone can get access to a lot of texts and documents written in different languages and the fact that one can automatically access the translated version to the language of their liking is something that can’t go without notice. Translators from back then would really be proud of what has been done with the art that is translation. All the changes are amazing and it couldn’t be any other way.

Translation Services At A Turning Point

Across businesses worldwide, there is an increasing demand for translation driven by:

  • an increase in demand for non-English languages,
  • increase in products and services from non-English countries reaching foreign markets,
  • an in vertical-specific translation use cases, and.
  • A reduction of translation, driven by improvements in AI technology and the rise of cloud-based translation platforms. These lower costs support a growing “long tail” of businesses that can profitably offer services in multiple languages.

Annual enterprise spending on translation services is expected to grow to US$45b billion by 2020, primarily driven by increasing globalization and an increasing amount of text being generated worldwide.

  • This growth is also being stimulated by new technology. Many organizations are using artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of machine translation (MT) to reduce the costs of translation. AI-enabled automated translation platforms like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and the recently released Amazon Translate have in the last 24 months taken a great leap forward in accuracy. This is for two reasons: one, they build on recent breakthrough improvements in neural machine translation (NMT) algorithms, and two; they have access to a much larger amount of language data from search engines, social networks, and e-commerce sites.
  • Typically, these translations are offered for free and supported by ads, so the users are happy with whatever quality they can get, and the consequences of errors are low.
  • In contrast, the accuracy of these existing systems is not adequate for many business use cases, such as creating a user interface in a new language, translating a tax document, or creating a user manual for a product in a new language. Yet AI is also having a big impact here, where human-in-the-loop uses cases allow the AI system to do an initial translation that is then refined by a human expert. Although this isn’t driving translation pricing all the way to zero, this technology is having a profound impact on the translation marketplace, which is transforming in shape because of these forces.

The Future Of Translation

Will AI Lead To The End Of Translation Jobs?

The recent acceleration in machine translation sophistication and reliability leads some observers to speculate that machines will essentially remove the need for expensive human translation even in the enterprise market, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs in product and service localization, publishing, marketing, and myriad other fields, even as the demand for translation explodes.

Why Is It Unlikely That AI Will Lead To The End Of Human Translation Jobs?

Although the hype around recent improvements is largely justified, that machines will destroy language services as an industry and drastically reduce the need for translation and globalization teams is not likely.  There are several reasons:

  1. As described above, the bar for successful language translation in the enterprise is substantially higher than for consumer applications.
  2. Even within the enterprise, the bar is rising for these reasons:
    • More languages and dialects must be handled.
    • More specialty vertical markets, such as the law and healthcare, must be served.
    • There is an increase in the need for more specialty horizontal document types, such as for documents describing decisions, requirements, and systems.
    • Translating the functional aspects of a product (e.g. menus and documentation) is a specialized practice and one for which consumer approaches to translation do not readily apply.
  3. Current language translation technologies will not improve at the current pace unabated. The biggest recent advances have come from leveraging massive corpora of already-translated materials to learn translation models that can translate similar content in the future. Many enterprise cases are much more specific in terms of context and discipline, and also have lower volumes of already-translated data for these narrower contexts. These are technical challenges that AI algorithms are only today beginning to address, and new technology transfer ―if not also new R&D―are required to reach the next level in driving business value.
  4. The number of languages that can be profitably translated is increasing with the new lower-cost, AI-supported approach, as we describe in more detail below. Hence, even as the costs for translating higher-priority languages might come down, the volume of emerging-priority languages continues to rise. These less-translated languages have less training data, making the automation problem harder, as noted above.

Can AI Be An Opportunity Rather Than A Threat To Human Translation?

  • As if the changes in the industry wrought by AI weren’t enough, in addition, the rise of cloud-based machine translation platforms also promises to further drive down the cost of enterprise translation. Platforms merge functionality needed by multiple ecosystem partners in a system analogous to Amazon’s providing marketing functionality for its network of product suppliers.
  • While the two forces of AI and cloud-based platforms might appear on the surface to create an existential threat for language services providers (LSPs) and for human translators they will create a massive opportunity for those with the foresight and agility to pivot quickly into the new reality.
  • Lower costs will increase the number of enterprises that can consider sophisticated translation services they haven’t previously been able to justify, driving a sharp increase in demand. Rather than eliminating the need for human translators with specific language, cultural, and vertical domain expertise, cloud-based AI-powered platforms will instead enable massive improvements in human translators’ capacity (languages, verticals, and horizontals, as above), efficiency, and accuracy.
  • Providers prepared to transition away from high-cost, hard-to-scale translation models and take advantage of enterprise-focused translation platforms will handle more volume, continue to offer the value-added expertise that differentiates the enterprise and consumer translation markets, and more easily and quickly add new languages.
  • From an employment point of view, although there will be a massive shift in the work performed by a typical translator, for the reasons given above, we do not foresee a substantial decrease in the need for their services.

Translating The Long Tail

  • The number of languages and language pairs now handled by the most advanced translation platforms represents only a small fraction of the languages spoken across even the developed world. But translating content into languages beyond the 40 supported by the largest language service providers (LSP) and by enterprise software vendors has, to date, been difficult or impossible to cost-justify: for most companies, the cost and time required to add just one new language to a product have been measured in the millions of dollars and years of time. Those barriers are about to be shattered by the combination of scale efficiencies enabled by cloud-based platforms and translator productivity improvements enabled by machine translation.
  • While some of these long-tail language markets are growing quickly, few will ever represent enough revenue to justify the cost under the existing on-premises deployment, non-AI technology model. However, with platform economics and AI-enabled efficiencies dropping the cost, translation providers will recoup the financial and time investment required to add new languages while still keeping translation prices affordable for a much larger set of customers. The economics will also allow providers to vastly increase the volume of translation they can handle, helping to maintain revenue and margins even as prices drop.

The mix of languages that need to be translated is shifting. Today, while English is the top language used on the internet, less than a third of about 4 billion Internet users are English speakers.

  • Going forward, the number of new language opportunities is substantial and represents a new market for many businesses. According to Common Sense Advisory (CSA), enterprises will need to translate content into a steadily increasing number of “niche” languages to reach small but fast-growing economies. Where approximately 14 languages reach about 75% of global Internet users today, reaching the next 20% requires adding about 40 more. By 2027, the firm estimates that enterprises will need to translate into over 60 languages to reach 96% of the online population.
  • More data on this point: while English remains the primary language of international business and the Internet, a commonly cited forecast that appeared as early as 2005 projected that the next billion Internet users would not be native English speakers. Visual Capitalist traces the entire status of language usage today. World language authority Ethnologic estimates that English is a second language for about 60% of all English speakers. If you have ever learned a foreign language, you will appreciate how much easier it is to understand your native language. That translates into more effective communication and higher business value for whoever does the translation.
  • While no one expects every linguistic group will be covered soon, new patterns of trade will soon drive requirements for some unexpected languages and language pairs. Defaulting to English as a common language in place of local languages will become less viable as these markets are opened up.
  • Also consider that there are over 20 major languages in India, written in a dozen different scripts, and estimates of over 720 dialects. Twenty-six regional languages in India are spoken by over 1 million people who don’t speak Hindi. And although it may not be obvious, some of these regional languages are more valuable than Hindi in terms of the speakers’ literacy and economic status.
  • Beyond adding entirely new languages, the move to a platform model will also ultimately make translating within languages–between dialects and specialist jargons–affordable, further extending the long-tail opportunity.
  • Altogether, this combination of today’s decreasing hegemony of English along with non-Western centric developments in global business means that there is an increasing demand for translation between many new language pairs, and this demand will last for years to come.

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1 thought on “How Has Language Translation Evolved, What Is The Future?”

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