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Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics (1966)

Chapter: Is there a Shortage of Translators or Translation?

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Suggested Citation:"Is there a Shortage of Translators or Translation?." National Research Council. 1966. Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9547.
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Suggested Citation:"Is there a Shortage of Translators or Translation?." National Research Council. 1966. Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9547.
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Page 12

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Is There a Shortage of Translators or Translation? In the past, it has been said that there is an unfulfilled need for translation or a shortage of translators. With respect to transla- tors of other languages into English, the Committee finds that this is not so. This conclusion is based on the following data: 1. The supply of translators greatly exceeds the demand. The rolls of the U.S. Employment Service, the availability of translators to work at rates as low as $6 per 1,000 words (or lower), and con- versations with translators confirm the Committee's conclusion. 2. The Joint Publications Research Service has the capacity to double its output immediately (with a very small increase in office staff) if called upon. The JPRS has 4,000 translators under con- tract, and in the average month it utilizes the services of only some 300 of them. To choose one important language as an example, the JPRS could with no difficulty handle up to two and a half times the present demand for Chinese translation. 3. The National Science Foundation's Publication Support Pro- gram will carefully consider, through a proper professional society, the support of the translation of any foreign journal that such a society nominates. Thirty journals were being translated cover to cover in Fiscal Year 1964 (see Appendix 6, Table 1~. One trans- lation has a circulation of only 200 copies. This comes close to providing individual service. In 12 years of NSF support, 19 translated journals have become self-supporting (see Appendix 6, Table 2~. The Committee rejects any argument, based on the fact that the demand for the PL 480 translations is five times greater than the program can satisfy, that there is a shortage of translation. Such an argument is rejected on the grounds that the demand for almost any free commodity is insatiable . Forty-five (mostly government) information facilities, in re- sponse to a questionnaire issued by the Select Committee on Government Research (House of Representatives, 88th Congress), 11

indicated that the work of their facilities had been limited by a lack of translators. These 45 facilities were again asked by the Auto- matic Language Processing Advisory Committee whether their facility had been limited by a lack of translators, and if so whether this lack was attributable to a lack of authorized positions for trans- lators or to a lack of qualified translators. The Committee received 25 replies. Some said that their facilities had no translation function. One said that it had not been limited by a lack of translators and that this situation was attributable to a lack of authorized positions. Six indicated that they were not limited by a lack of translators. Of the nine facilities that answered clearly in the affirmative that they had been limited by a lack of translators, seven indicated that this was attributable to a lack of authorized positions. Of the two remaining, only one, the nongovernment research center, said its lack was attributable to a lack of qualified translators. The others simply replied by saying that they did not have sufficient requests for services to justify permanent positions. The results of the survey confirm the Committee's belief that there is no shortage of translators, although there may be a short- age of authorized positions for translators. This, then, is a fiscal problem for the agencies and the Civil Service Commission, and not a problem for research and development offices supporting research in mechanical translation. The Committee concludes that all the Soviet literature for which there is any obvious demand is being translated See A. G. Oettinger's "An Essay in Information Retrieval or the Birth of a Myth," Infor- mation and Control 8 (1), 64 (1965) concerning a claim of duplicated research], and, although it is less easy to evaluate the needs or coverage of open or closed material for intelligence, the Committee regards it as decisive that it has not encountered a single intelli- gence organization that is demanding more money for human trans- lation. The Committee has heard statements that the use of trans- lation is analyst-limited; that is, even if more material were trans- lated, analysts would not be available to utilize it. Thus, it is ironic that several agencies propose to spend more money for "machine translation.', The Committee is puzzled by a rationale for spending substantial sums of money on the mechanization of a small and already economically depressed industry with a full-time and part- time labor force of less than 5,000. 12

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