Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Automatic Translators (ATs)

Devices programmed to translate from one spoken language to another. They are now the principal means by which travellers, diplomats and drifters communicate with speakers of other tongues. Widespread use of ATs has meant that only specialists bother with the hassle of learning foreign languages, most of them low-level academics bunkered down in the few remaining university language departments.
The demise of language learning - once considered an important element of civilized life - has not gone without protest, one focus of complaint being that since ATs work from a database of clichés, discourse between people of different cultures has been reduced to stock phrases, vulgar expressions of sentiment, and intellectual commonplaces. Even original thoughts, when filtered through ATs, are reduced to banalities. AT enthusiasts retort that 99% of oral communication is banal anyway, and that “what a good AT can’t translate, is probably not worth expressing.”
On a more philosophical level, concern exists over whether ATs overly sacrifice accuracy for the sake of intelligibility and whether they - along with other electronic media - are contributing to a decrease in the variety and depth of human culture. Driving the debate is a fear that the number of meanings available to humanity may be falling as our expressive devices become more uniform. The reduction in the number of spoken languages from about 10,000 in 1900 to less than 4,000 today, likewise suggests that we may be heading towards a future shorn of the quirks and colours that constitute the main source of human creativity.

No comments:

Post a Comment