Icebreaker 10, February 2013

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Welcome to the tenth issue of Icebreaker, the STP newsletter.

The film world is buzzing about the 85th Academy Awards. Shockingly, our 45-second animation “2012: What a Year” failed to receive a Short Film nomination at the Oscars, but we’ll get to enjoy its premiere at the GALA Film Fest in Miami on 19 March instead. Prepare to be amazed!

Company news

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From the engine room

Post-editing of machine translation output (MT-PE) is the process of revising machine-translated content and editing it in such a way that the final product meets the requirements of the client. In most cases, the requirement is to achieve the same quality level as with fully human translation. The industry is working on solutions for analysing the quality of raw MT output and establishing the editing effort needed (preferably before the post-editing actually takes place), since these obviously affect the pricing of the service and the turnaround time that can be expected.

While looking for savings, it is important to realise that the raw output quality of MT engines varies wildly from Google Translate to highly-tuned and customised domain-specific engines. The latter can give very good results. Unless you have worked on the particular MT engine output before, it is difficult to estimate exactly what an equitable level of compensation for the post-editing should be.

The MT output is also usually combined with traditional TM output. Typically, any matches above 70–75% come from the translation memory and are dealt with by the linguist as in any normal job. Any segment below a 70–75% match gets machine-translated and the linguist post-edits it, recognising that there is a difference between editing a segment you know was produced by a human in the past (a TM match) and a segment that was put together by an engine. Typical errors in MT output include incorrect sentence structures, tenses, articles, inconsistent terminology and incorrect or missing tags. A good rule of thumb for the linguist is to look at an MT segment for two seconds and if they do not think they can easily edit it to produce a good result, to discard it and translate it from scratch, or use a lower fuzzy match from the TM instead.

The speed at which a linguist can carry out post-editing is directly linked to the quality of the raw MT output. With the projects STP has done so far, involving Scandinavian languages and customised MT engines, an experienced linguist would generally be expected to process 20–50% more work than when working from scratch. This productivity enhancement gives an indication of the savings in time and costs that can be expected.

Staff News

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Presenting the Stockholm office

Andrea Augustsson comes from Uppsala, about an hour north of Stockholm. She studied both literary and non-fiction translation at Uppsala University and graduated in 2006, with her MA thesis consisting of an annotated translation of Pat Barker’s “Border Crossing”.

After her first job at a translation company in Uppsala, she moved to Stockholm in 2008 to work as a translator and project manager at Tranflex. Following on from STP acquiring Tranflex last year, Andrea is now the Senior Account Linguist for a single large IT client and she heads STP’s dedicated team for this account, with Raphael Sannholm and Fredrik Ström as her closest colleagues.

Andrea has translated two non-fiction children’s books: one about animals and the strange things they do to survive in harsh climates, and the other about dinosaurs, who sadly did not survive, despite such efforts. She enjoys travelling and lived in the Bethnal Green area of London for a year, working at the Thorntons chocolate shop in Regent Street. She loves flea markets, yarn shops, a cold winter swim (as long as there is a sauna waiting) and a good dinner. As a specific goal for 2013, Andrea mentioned passing her driving test and getting her driving licence. And if not in 2013, then at least before Raphael gets his!

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Before heading down the path of linguistics and translation, Raphael Sannholm studied music for several years and worked as a musician (playing electric bass) in different contexts. He still plays, but hasn’t done so professionally for some time now.

After studying Spanish in Barcelona, Raphael continued to follow the same path at Stockholm University. He was particularly intrigued by the translation courses and exercises and a career in translation seemed an obvious choice. It resulted in a BA in English Linguistics and a MA in Translation Studies, with a special interest in the psychological approaches, such as the cognitive processes, to translation. Raphael came to Tranflex straight after his graduation in 2010, having had a summer job there the year before.

Raphael has also translated two non-fiction books for children aged 9 to 12: one about animals in armour with the Swedish title “Anfall och försvar”, and the other about people in armour with the Swedish title “Allt om borgar”, both published in 2012. Both books received good reviews from Bibliotekstjänst, which is the major supplier of books for Swedish libraries.

A keen traveller, Raphael heads for Spain at least once a year, mainly for the climate, the culture and a chance to practise his Spanish. He enjoys catching, cooking and eating fish, but gets to do the catching part far too infrequently. Upcoming challenges for Raphael include learning how to downhill ski and how to drive.

Industry issues

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We have found our voice

We work with language, yet are often lost for words when trying to explain what it is we do to people on the outside. Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche have solved this problem for us with their book “Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World”, published in October 2012. It is a wonderful way to introduce laymen to “the biggest industry people never knew existed”.

The book has been enthusiastically received by translation professionals all over the world – accurate and expert reviews are easy to find online – and it deserves all the praise it has been given. With a lump in my throat, I read about the interpreters saving lives in rescue operations, risking their own in wartime situations where their countrymen see them as traitors or giving a voice to victims of atrocities and helping to build international pressure to intervene before it’s too late.

I laughed aloud at the story of IKEA product names. Apparently, a Danish academic study managed to prove that the Swedish furniture giant often uses Swedish names for its high-end products whereas the names given to cheaper products such as doormats tend to be Danish. Did you know that IKEA sells a toilet seat called “Öresund”?

The book is made up of real-life anecdotes that make it accessible to the masses and gripping for insiders. Luther translated the New Testament into German at a rate of 2,760 words per day in 1521. The Finnish TV subtitler of The Simpsons received a personal thank-you note from a fan who had tried to watch the programme in the US without subtitles. Cirque du Soleil have more than 20 interpreters on staff.

My grown-up bilingual daughter, after a life-time of watching her parents labour in the translation industry and vowing that she would never end up there herself, listened avidly to me reciting paragraph after paragraph about how relevant and just plain cool translating and interpreting is as a job. My excitement about this book is not merely as a private individual, but also because of the deep delight I feel that Nataly and Jost have given us a voice as a profession. The voice that we have been longing for, in order to raise the profile of the industry, to attract talent and to defend reasonable working conditions for our people.

Let’s pass a copy of this book around family and friends to enable them to finally grasp how very important and interesting our work is. And let’s have a spare copy for those new acquaintances who ask – for the third time – “What was it that you do for a living?”

Nordic focus

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English is a Scandinavian language

Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo, and Joseph Emmonds, a visiting professor from Palacký University in the Czech Republic, received publicity in November 2012 for their paper proposing that the West Germanic Old English may not be the root of modern English after all, but that English being close in structure to modern Norwegian (nynorsk) suggests the language may be based on the Old Norse of the Vikings. The Norse influence on English has of course always been acknowledged, particularly in vocabulary and place names. The way people speak in East Yorkshire in England has a striking resemblance to Danish west-coast dialect, whereas some of the northern-most Scottish islands have a lot in common with Norwegian. Scottish people and Geordies talk about “bairns” rather than “children”, for example.

The Faarlund-Emmonds theory, however, looks beyond the similarities in vocabulary. Such similarities are, after all, common in any two languages that come into contact with each other. They claim that it is the syntax and structure that prove their point. As examples, they provide English structures like the stranded preposition at the end of a sentence which are shared with the Scandinavian languages but which do not occur in German or Dutch.

Whether English is a West Germanic language with Scandinavian influences or a Scandinavian language with West Germanic influences may be of consequence only to the scholars. But if this discussion got the public in the UK interested in the Nordic languages and encouraged a few more students to study them at university, then it cannot be a bad thing. Looking at the limited number of English translators graduating with a Scandinavian language degree these days, I am all for promoting Swedish as the first foreign language for British children to learn. Yes, why not give them something familiar to start with; a very closely related language. It might help bury that age-old adage about the British not being able to pick up foreign languages.

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