Frank N. Trinh
While surfing the talawas website recently, I had a chance of reading an article, titled “Translation: A profession for the young?“, which was carried on-line in the newspaper “The Expatriate”, issued on 22nd July, 2005. The article focussed on foreign literary translation into the mother tongue, which is Vietnamese. The writer revealed that translation may be regarded as a profession, or not quite, depending on whether it is considered from a professional or social perspective. It is a profession because “it requires a period of time to learn the trade, to work at it and to earn income”. It is not quite a profession because, “it is not really like any normal profession” but it possesses something “mysterious and remote” and seems to belong in the realm of the aged, in other words, it is beyond the reach of the young.
The person who put this article together wished to widely canvas public opinion, so he had consulted six famous Vietnamese translators currently residing in Ho Chi Minh City, who, as illustrated by their photographs in the newspaper, were all males and well into their sixties. Generally speaking, the advice of all these people to any youngster wishing to enter the profession is that they should:
1. Be passionate about translation as if it were their favourite hobby.
2. Be fascinated by Vietnamese literature and their mother tongue.
3. Be keen to research and to learn in order to gain experience.
4. Be able to visualise the situation in the source language to transform it accurately and naturally into the target language.
Translation here is only understood as translating foreign literary works into Vietnamese. Nothing is mentioned about the problem, if any, of asking for the copy right of the author who owns the intellectual property chosen for translation. Translator Pham Viem Phuong, in particular, let it be known that the monthly income before tax of a translator is in the neighbourhood of 4 million Vietnamese dong (the equivalent of much less than A$400). However, he did not mention how many hours were worked per month by the professional translator.
From my personal experience in Australia, translation, or rather interpreting and translating community information, to me, is a part of the “bread and butter” of my profession. In regard to translating literary works, it is a hobby depending on my inspiration, but not for remuneration. Most of my translation work of this nature is translating into English, which includes short stories by Nhat Tien, Nguyen Huy Thiep, Pham Thi Hoai, etc… Hopefully, there will come a day when I will put them into a collection of translated short stories for publication, but not for any commercial interest, because the labour and printing costs involved outweigh the income gained.
My dream is to use the machine to help in my translations. Therefore, for this reason, about three or four years ago while participating in an international forum run by overseas Vietnamese, I was introduced by a female academic in IT in California , USA, to Systran machine translation. As a test, I cut and pasted a paragraph of approximately 150 words from one of my articles written in English, and ticked the box to translate it into French. Within one second I obtained the paragraph translated into French. What a feeling!
Below is an example:
No Pain, No Gain I don't remember exactly how many times I've
visited the Netherlands. I vaguely recollect that it would be at least five
times. Three times out of England, once out of the USA and this last time, out
of Australia. These visits cover a period of over 20 years. Each time I went it
was to visit friends whom I sorely missed. Visiting people is my main priority,
whilst sight-seeing takes second place. This way of travelling costs us less,
but gains us more, much like in the early days of being Vietnamese refugees.
However, this last time, on my arrival in Amsterdam, apart from seeing friends
and sight-seeing, I also had to do something which was for me far more
advantageous - that is to attend to my teeth. This trip was about a patient
seeking a dental doctor, and looking for a private clinic for a period of two
weeks, free of charge. (159 words)
Recently I tried the same English passage with Google machine translation and I obtained the following:
Google’s Translated text:
Aucune douleur, aucun gain je ne me rappelle pas exactement
combien de fois j'ai visité
Je rappelle vaguement qu'il serait au moins cinq temps. Trois fois hors de
l'Angleterre, une fois hors des Etats-Unis et de cette dernière fois, hors de
l'Australie. Ces visites couvrent une période de sur 20 ans. Chaque fois que
cela j'a disparu il devait rendre visite
aux amis dont je me suis douloureusement ennuyés. Les personnes visitantes sont
ma priorité principale, tout en la visite touristique prend le deuxième
endroit. Cette manière du déplacement nous coûte moins, mais nous gagne
davantage, tout comme en les jours tôt d'être les réfugiés vietnamiens.
Cependant, cette dernière fois, sur mon arrivée à Amsterdam, indépendamment de
voir des amis et de la visite touristique, j'ai dû également faire quelque chose
qui était à moi bien plus avantageux qu'est s'occuper mes dents. Ce voyage
était au sujet d'un patient cherchant un docteur dentaire, et recherchant une
clinique privée pendant une période de deux semaines, gratuitement. (167
Recently I also relied on Systran and Google to translate an introductory paragraph of mine written in English, on the occasion of The Year of the Rooster, as follows:
A Vietnamese Lunar New Year Message Dear Everyone, Well,
the Year of the Monkey is over and once again it’s time to reminisce about the
lives of the family, as we head into the Year of the Rooster… Let us hope that
the Year of the Rooster heralds in a brighter future for all of us. Roosters
will not try ‘to compete with each other by their louder crow’, as Vietnamese
people often say, in order to avoid last year’s world turmoil of the Iraqi War.
Also, in the light of the tsunami disaster, let us all look at the bigger
picture and see 2005 as a year of understanding and consideration for our fellow
man. If the worst comes to the worst, we might like to call 2005 the Year of the
Hen, because hens don’t crow or fight their hearts out. (143 words)
Then I was given this passage in French:
Systran’s Translated text (Alta Vista Babel Fish)
Un message lunaire vietnamien de nouvelle année cher chacun, bien, l'année du singe plus d'et de nouveau il est temps de se rappeler au sujet des vies de la famille, car nous nous dirigeons dans l'année du coq... Espérons que l'année des hérauts de coq dans un futur plus lumineux pour tous les nous. Les coqs n'essayeront pas le `pour concurrencer l'un l'autre par leur corneille vietnamienne plus forte ', comme les gens disent souvent, afin d'éviter l'agitation du monde de l'année dernière de la guerre irakienne. En outre, à la lumière du désastre de tsunami, laissez-nous tout le regard à l'image plus grande et voyez 2005 comme année d'arrangement et de considération pour notre homme de camarade. Si le plus mauvais vient au plus mauvais, nous pourrions aimer appeler 2005 l'année de la poule, parce que les poules ne rappellent pas ou ne combattent pas leurs coeurs dehors. (149 words)
Google’s Translated text:
Un message lunaire vietnamien de nouvelle année cher chacun,
bien, l'année du singe plus d'et de nouveau il est temps de se rappeler au sujet
des vies de la famille, car nous nous dirigeons dans l'année du coq... Espérons
du coq annonce dans un futur plus lumineux
pour tous les nous. Les
coqs n'essayeront pas 'de concurrencer l'un l'autre par
leur corneille plus forte
', comme les
vietnamiens disent souvent,
afin d'éviter l'agitation du monde
d'année dernière de War.
à la lumière du désastre de tsunami,
nous laissent tout le
l'image plus grande et
année de la compréhension
et de la considération pour notre homme de camarade. Si le plus
mauvais vient au plus mauvais, nous pourrions aimer appeler 2005 l'année de la
poule, parce que les poules ne rappellent pas ou ne combattent pas leurs coeurs
dehors. (147 words)
Together with two more passages translated into French (See Appendices A, B), I noted with my modest knowledge of French that the Systran or Google translation:
1. Does not follow strictly the format of the original text, (ie. using the next lines, capital letters);
2. When the exact French word cannot be found, the English word or the foreign word is left as it is—untranslated;
3. The translation is, in most cases, word-for-word;
4. Word order is not sometimes clearly defined;
5. When idiomatic expressions are used, the machine “gives up”, by translating them literally instead;
6. Lacks the naturalness and harmony of the target language.
I have recently been involved in compiling a bilingual, bi-directional dictionary of English-Vietnamese collocations for advanced learners of English and for professional translators and interpreters of English and Vietnamese. Even doing it in the fastest time possible, it is still going to take quite a few more years. Once the information and data has been gathered for a database, I will then think seriously about machine translation for Vietnamese. At this point in time, while the Systran machine translation makes translations of many languages available, including those Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the scripts of which are so complex, but no less than Vietnamese, up to the present time, Vietnamese is still not translated by Systran.
In so far as machine translation goes, it is natural phenomenon that the translation will differ from the original at the receiving end, particularly in relation to complicated translations, which often involve literary works. I believe that with translations about the weather or scientific subjects it is not bad, because it is almost always pretty straightforward. “What you see is what you get!” particularly with languages that are similar both in syntactic and lexical structure, such as English and French, and in countries such as Canada which is bi-lingual.
My concern here is that I want to know what percentage of accuracy the machine can achieve with an average level of difficulty of the source text. A person’s life is too short and the issue of translation requires a lot of time and limitless perseverance. I was recently informed by a Vietnamese Australian translator Ton That Quynh Du, presently living in Canberra, that it took him two long hard years to finish translating the story “Thien Su” (The Crystal Messenger) by Pham Thi Hoai.
If the machine could translate 70 percent of the text with accuracy, then the remaining 30 percent could be reserved for the translator. It would then be a great thrill! A professional translator can do two things: (1) Pre-editing and (2) Post-editing, in order to assist the machine in what we can anticipate, and that which we cannot. Let’s imagine that if we have to translate 10 novels of 400 pages each with 500 words per page (10x400x500 = 2,000,000 words) from English into Vietnamese and vice-versa, then what a bonus that would be!
The right people for the right job! or as the English would say: “Horses for courses” and Vietnamese people say: “Dogs for guarding the house, cats are for catching mice!”. In view of this, I would like to consult and confer with one or more persons who are well-versed in information technology (IT), so that we can carry out research together about the mechanics and the principles of machine translation. For my part, with the co-operation of those who share the same expertise and passion, I would like to compare the two languages, that is English and Vietnamese, in lexical as well as syntactic structure for the purpose of translation, using a computer-oriented approach. The aim would be to give instructions as well as commands for the machine to follow. I have no idea if there are any committees or group of experts who have studied this issue or not in Vietnam or in other developing countries. From uninformed sources, I have heard that someone in Ho Chi Minh City has been awarded an American scholarship to study for a PhD in the USA in machine translation. Just recently, through Lotus (Hoa Sen) College/University in Saigon there has sprung up a Vietnamese group who have touched on doing research into this topic. Whatever the truth is, I am in no position to check. If anyone has any more information please let me know. I hereby reach out to you ladies, gentlemen and friends, like an echo from the abyss, to tell of my feelings about my long-held dream.
Once translation by machine becomes a reality for Vietnamese, then translation will definitely be a profession for the young, and a career that is rare and precious, and which, even if you own many rice-fields, is beyond compare. Is it not true that our ancestors told us: “A well-skilled trade will bring you many great returns”?
Frank N. Trinh
talawas July, 2005
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