Perceptions of Machine Translation and Computer-Aided Translation by Professionals and the General Public: A Survey Study Based on Articles in Professional Journals and in the Media

Perceptions of Machine Translation and Computer-Aided Translation by Professionals and the General Public: A Survey Study Based on Articles in Professional Journals and in the Media

Binhua Wang (University of Leeds, UK) and Yuan Ping (University of Leeds, UK & Hangzhou Dianzi University, China)
DOI: 10.4018/IJTIAL.20200701.oa1
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This article examines perceptions of MT and CAT among translation professionals and the general public by surveying 124 articles published in the professional journals of ITI Bulletin and MultiLingual and in the Chinese media between 2017 and 2019. Through framing analysis, the following frames about MT and CAT are identified: progress, quality, threat, limitation, cooperation, economic factors, and ethics. Through qualitative analysis of prominent frames, it is also found that attitudes vary between the professional journals and the media about the role of MT as related to human translators. While ITI Bulletin holds a generally conservative attitude, MultiLingual takes a more positive stance towards the applications of MT, and the Chinese media generally hype MT as a potential threat to HT but promote human-machine cooperation as the way out. This study also shows that the ethical and legal issues involving MT and CAT have not been addressed adequately.
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With the advancement of translation technologies, Translation Studies are experiencing “a technological turn” (O’Hagan, 2013, p. 512). There are a large number of studies that describe the convergence between technology and translation (e.g. Bowker, 2002; Chan, 2015; O’Hagan, 2019). As Pym (2011) noted, “new translation technologies … are altering the very nature of the translator’s cognitive activity, social relations, and professional standing” (p. 1). Against this background, it will be interesting to see how translation technologies are perceived by translation professionals in professional journals and by the general public in the media. Indeed, the media plays an important role in reflecting and shaping people’s perceptions and public opinions about an issue (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989). According to Viera (2020) and Viera and Alonso (2020), professional translators’ attitudes towards Machine Translation (MT) are mainly negative. Hu (2018) also found that the majority of online posts in 2017 about MT on Sina Weibo, a major Chinese social media platform, is negative. As Tinsley (2017, p. 29) noted, “There has been a lot of media coverage on AI and neural MT. It’s hard to separate the hype from the reality, unless you peek behind the curtain to see what’s actually going on.” Therefore, it will be useful for the current study to examine perceptions of MT and Computer-aided Translation (CAT) both in professional journals and in the media.

In recent years the debate has got heated over whether machines will replace human in translation. Some translation scholars suggest that machine translation and human translation cannot be separated clearly now. For example, Robinson (2003) argued that “all translation in the world today is already ‘cyborg translation’ – translation involving some significant interface between humans and machines” (p. 369). Similarly, Cronin (2003) identified that:

The notion of the machine fully replacing the translator or becoming a wholly adequate substitute for the translator is considerably less plausible than the emergence of translational cyborgs where the levels of interaction between humans and machines are deeper and more extensive. (p. 116)

In referring to the more recent debate, O’Hagan (2013, p. 513) posited that “the image of technology-averse translators treating MT as a threat has now largely been replaced by that of translators co-existing with an increasing integration of technology into their work environments”. The American Translators Association (ATA) also issued a position paper on machine translation in 2018 stating that “the only way to use machine translation successfully is in combination with professional translators” (ATA, 2018).

There is no scarcity of previous literature on the historical development of MT and CAT (e.g. Melby & Warner, 1995; Chan, 2017), the review of which is beyond the scope of this paper. The objective of this study is to examine the current perceptions of MT and CAT by translation professionals and the general public against the background of recent new developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI). This study aims to answer the following research questions (RQs):

  • RQ1: How are MT and CAT perceived by the general public as shown in the Chinese media?

  • RQ2: How are MT and CAT perceived by the professionals as shown in English-language professional journals?

  • RQ3: Are their perceptions different? What are the implications for the profession?

This paper first gives an overview of the media representation of MT and CAT and elaborates on the relevant concept of media framing. It then goes on to introduce the collection and selection of data and the research methods, which is followed by a framing analysis of the articles in the media and in the professional journals. It finally discusses the research findings and summarises the implications and limitations of this study.

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