Traducción E Interpretación Ahora

We’ve come a long way from the Rosetta Stone.

By Michael Isenbek

In 1799, soldiers in Napoleon’s occupying army stationed near the Egyptian town of el-Rashid (a.k.a. Rosetta), unearthed one of the most iconic language translation artifacts of antiquity—the Rosetta Stone. Dated to 196 BC, the stele is from the Ptolemaic Era, when Hellenistic peoples ruled the region. It is a decree by a council of Egyptian priests that affirms the royal cult of the 13-year-old king Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation. There are three blocks of text: one in hieroglyphic (the writing system of priests), one in demotic (the script used locally in daily life) and one in Greek (the language of the ruling government). So why is the Rosetta Stone so revered? It enabled scholars to finally decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, by comparing the known Greek writing system to the then-unknown hieroglyphic text.

Though the stone is beyond invaluable for its role in world history, it is the furthest thing from convenient and flexible as a translation tool—even as a fragment of a larger stele, it weighs more than half a ton and is composed of a relatively hard type of rock onto which each character was inscribed. True, paper, writing tools and books are much easier to manage, but translation was still a painstaking process for most of history. Nowadays, it is still a highly detailed undertaking, but computing technology gives a big assist to today’s language professionals.

It is important to distinguish between “translating” and “interpreting.” Translating refers to taking written text from a source language to a target language, while maintaining the same meaning; interpreting is performed by a linguistic professional by listening to an individual speak in one language, take the meaning of what was said, then speak that in another language—from language A to B, then from language B to A. The intention is to relay concepts, rather than going between languages word-for-word. Professional interpreters have to be able to do this on the fly in real-time, without using supplemental materials. Though the history of translation is literally set in stone, the history of interpreting is fuzzier, in that the human voice is far more ephemeral than written text.

According to the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA)—a worldwide, non-profit trade association for the language industry—there are a few different types of computing technology that assists translators. In a nutshell:

Computer Aided Translation (CAT) software mainly takes the form of a text editor that can support bilingual file formats, and has incorporated Translation Memory, which means frequently-used strings of text created by the translator will be remembered by the program, which avoids excessive word processor-ing. Translation Management Systems include CAT software as well as business organization tools, platforms to connect translators with customers and translation quality evaluations.

Machine Translation (MT)is when the computer does all the required processing for translating language—a ubiquitous example is Google Translate, which performs “ad hoc” translations, according to GALA. Other domain-specific MT platforms, such as in medicine, can learn and improve. GALA cites three main ways that MT works—Rules-Based, whose systems rely on numerous algorithms to apply a language’s grammar, syntax, and phraseology; Statisticalsystems which reference a huge number of texts to come up with translations that statistically make sense; and Neural systems, which use machine learning tech to become educated in the best translations—something that consumes a large amount of computing power.

Since the Internet is very much international, Website Translation Technologyis vital, especially for eCommerce and travel apps. While a website visitor will see a site switch from, say, English to Spanish at the touch of a button, there are complex backend computations at work, hinging on Multilingual Content Management Systems.

At the momentInterpreting Technologyrelies on human-to-human communication, as automated interpreting is still being perfected. As explained by GALA, working remotely can be vital for today’s interpreter, so there is a host of programs in the Skype vein, called Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). For the layperson, there are Bring-Your-Own Device Interpretation (BYOD)apps, which are good for large groups of people, and programs that combine VRI and BYOD functionality are called Interpreting Delivery Platforms.

Outsourced language services and tech is big business. As predicted by the Common Sense Advisory research company, the global market for this niche will reach US$56.18 billion by 2021. And this is understandable, considering that there are over 7,000 different languages currently spoken on Earth.

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