FIT Europe Position Statement on the Multilingual Digital Single Market
Europe’s Digital Single Market must be multilingual! — This is the title of an open letter to the European Commission, presented as a petition inviting signatures and published on 20 March 2015 (http://www.multilingualeurope.eu/).
The central advocacy of this open letter is that the European Commission should undertake concerted and immediate action to ensure the implementation of digital language tools for all EU languages, whatever their economic weight.
The signatory stakeholders believe that ‘such technology solutions … will provide all European citizens, businesses and public institutions access to high-quality machine translation and additional sophisticated language solutions for businesses, consumers and cross-border public services’.
The open letter was sent by and on behalf of the ‘community of European industry and researchers’ that pursues the development of a strategic agenda for the Multilingual Digital Single Market.
FIT Europe Viewpoint
It is clear that the digital R&D industry is interested in securing EU funding to ensure its financial viability and promote its products. There has already been a lot of effort invested in this field, leading to the development of widely available computer aided translation (CAT) tools and machine translation systems.
FIT Europe believes that improving and upgrading these tools, to the benefit of the general public and professionals alike, is commendable as it promotes multilingualism, thus reinforcing European citizenship.
Nonetheless, FIT Europe, while welcoming the development of such tools, would like to stress the difference between tools aiding the work of translators and systems generating translations automatically. CAT tools are indeed an invaluable aid to the work of trained and competent professional translators, used to ensure quality translations while improving performance. On the other hand, machine translation (of the Google Translate type), no matter the level of sophistication, will never be able to translate correctly the various nuances of human language. The potential of these machine translation systems is therefore limited and should be intended for simple factual or repetitive technical texts.
Translators are committed to understanding what they are translating – a machine cannot do this.
Translators are committed to understanding the subject matter and context of the source text – a machine cannot do this.
Translators have the flexibility to call on other resources for help with elucidating with text elements – something a machine cannot do.
Translators are able to render the variations and intricacies, the shades and tones, the very soul of the source text – something a machine cannot do.
Translators pledge their good standing and reputation on the soundness and quality of their work – something a machine cannot do.
Translators pledge their good standing and reputation on ensuring confidentiality – something a machine cannot do.
This is even more pronounced when it comes to interpreting oral messages which, in essence, carry nuances, imperfections, emotions and intercultural variants, as well as important non-verbal information communicated through the interlocutors’ posture, gestures, facial expressions, etc.
Considering the increasingly regulated and competitive environment which places more emphasis on price than quality, in the midst of a languishing economy, FIT Europe fears that the widespread use of machine translation would impair the quality of communication within the EU, thus ultimately leading to the impoverishment of cultural diversity, contrary to the claims of the open letter.
FIT Europe calls on the European Commission to initiate a strategic process focused on upgrading the translation and interpretation professions, not simply because of their high added value and contribution to the EU economy, but also because these professions guarantee a multilingual communication true to the richness of European diversity.