Professor Graham Turner: 10 lessons from the tale of the ‘fake’ interpreter | The Limping Chicken

It’s rare that LifeinLINCS points you to another blog but whenone of our contributors posts an incredible post on a leading website, well, we just can’t resist! If you have seen the furore over the fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, you will want to read this!

Professor Graham Turner: 10 lessons from the tale of the ‘fake’ interpreter | The Limping Chicken.

Machine Translation will not take your job, honest!

It’s a common theme. In [5, 10, 20] years, machine translation (MT) will be so good that there will be no human translators left. And, indeed, there are some trends that make this idea look tempting. The move towards statistical machine translation has allowed machines to learn from the texts they are given, allowing them to process at higher levels and produce more convincing results. But this won’t mean that they will replace humans, let’s see why.

The first reason that human translators will still have is that human language is slippery. Even if you were to compile a massive database (or “corpus”, to give it its technical name) of all the language used everywhere on the internet today, it would be out of date within 24 hours.

Why? Because as humans we love to play with, subvert and even break our own linguistic rules. Even people who hate languages love to make up new words and repurpose old ones. The biggest corpus in the world can only tell you how people used language yesterday, not how they are using it today and definitely not how they will use it tomorrow.

The basis of Statistical machine translation is that the way language has been used on previous occasions is a good guide as to how it should be used this time. Hence why Google Translate famously translated “le président des Etats-Unis” [the president of the United States] as “George W. Bush” months after President Obama was elected. The logic behind this decision is that if “George W. Bush” was used in that space enough times, it must mean that that phrase can be used all the time – a mistake that no human good human translator would ever make!

Add to this the fact that meanings of words change (something that has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog) and things look much worse for MT. It gets worse though, since language is bound so tightly to culture, “literal” translations are often incredibly misleading.

Here is a really simple example. In English, we have a set number of phrases we use to sign off a formal letter. We might use “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” or maybe “Kind regards”. In French, formal letter sign-offs are much longer and one of them might literally be translated as “Waiting for your response, I ask you to accept, Sir, the expression of my distinguished salutations”.

Now, statistical machine translation experts will rightly tell you that a good, trained package would not translate this literally but would look for an English equivalent. The problem is that the English “equivalent” would be different for different contexts and would involve looking much wider than MT normally looks. The decision here is linked to the context of the letter (specifically whether or not you know the name of the person you are sending it to) and not to language considerations themselves.

There are lots of translation decisions that are context-based like this one and it is in these kinds of decisions that MT will always flail around helplessly. It is in these kinds of context-based decisions that good human translators will always triumph.

So where might the future lead? Well, just as human translators are becoming more specialised, so will MT engines. Research presented at the recent IPCITI conference showed that there are ways that MT and precisely, post-edited MT can work. Perhaps one area where MT will work is in specialised fields, which use consistent language. Another view is that human translators will be called upon to make more use of their knowledge of the world, which adds justification to universities like Heriot-Watt who train their students in areas like international organisations and research skills alongside their technical training in translation and interpreting.

The future is bright, but the future certainly isn’t Machine Translation taking over completely from humans.

Claudia Angelelli Joins LINCS

I first met Claudia V. Angelelli  a couple of days before the launch of the EIRSS last June. She was very enthusiastic about the research summer school and super-efficient. In the space of 30 minutes, she managed to have a chat and catch up with EIRSS coordinator Raquel de Pedro, help us set up the lecture room before the big day, checked that all her material had reached participants, quizzed me on my own research interests and entertained my toddler while I was sorting out last-minute arrangements.

I must admit I was a bit star-struck. Prof. Angelelli is the guru of Medical Interpreting and her work is probably cited in every single research document in that field. She is an applied linguist with an unusual background combining Translation and Interpreting Studies, Social Sciences and Educational Linguistics. And yet here she was chatting to us with a huge smile on her face about research trends, differences in interpreting pedagogy, PhD training, not to mention language acquisition (because of my toddler’s age).  This is definitely not an academic who rests on her laurels.

During the EIRSS, she delivered a marathon 3-hour-long session on Research Design, asking fundamental questions such as “why do we do research?”, exploring dilemmas in research ethics and leading workshops.

Her research interests could not be more relevant. Her work focuses on Medical Interpreting but also on cross-cultural communication with a focus on the role of interpreters as language mediators. She has published numerous books, of which Medical Interpreting and Cross Cultural Communication constitutes probably the most important reference in the medical interpreting field as well as the first ethnographic work in Interpreting Studies. Revisiting the Interpreter’s Role: A Study of Conference, Court and Medical Interpreters in Canada, Mexico and the United States is equally influential as it is the first valid and reliable measurement of the role of interpreters . You can find a full list of her publications here.

That’s not all. Prof. Angelelli also developed the first empirically-driven language proficiency and interpreter readiness test for healthcare interpreting for The California Endowment and Hablamos Juntos.  She is the President of the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association, Director of the Coalition of Distinguished Language Proficiency Centers, and Advisor for the National Council of Interpreters in Healthcare and for Hablamos Juntos. She served as Director for the American Translators Association for six years and she is currently the World Project leader for the ISO Standards on Community Interpreting.

And the best part? As of June 2013, Prof. Claudia V.Angelelli is transitioning from SDSU, California to Heriot-Watt University joining the vibrant community of scholars at LINCS.

Welcome to LINCS, Claudia Angelelli.

(Still a bit star-struck…)

Author: Katerina Strani

A New Research Centre is Born!

A new centre was recently established at LINCS to complement and work alongside the well-established Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS).  The Intercultural Research Centre (IRC) addresses key intercultural issues arising from the changing global context.  It makes original contributions to the study of interculturality with particular reference to dimensions of living culture in European societies.

The Centre’s particular focus is on comparative work emphasising the applied dimensions of culture, with “culture” defined broadly in anthropological terms.  Prof Máiréad Nic Craith is Director the of the new IRC. She explains that the Centre aims to foster high impact, inter- and trans-disciplinary research on cultural issues. Members of the Centre have a broad range of expertise, particularly in the fields of European Culture & Heritage, Intercultural Communication, and Culture & Economy. The work of the Centre will focus on two key areas: developing and expanding our expertise, and engaging in effective knowledge exchange. The IRC will focus on these research themes in particular:

Cultural Heritages
This cluster builds on links with research users in the fields of media, representation, music and memory in the public, private and voluntary sectors

Migration and Cultural Policy
This cluster focuses on issues raised by culture contact in the context of migration

Culture, Tourism and Hospitality
This cluster currently focuses on origins, history and cultural practices of hospitality with a particular focus on the creation of the global hotels industry

Culture, Politics and the Arts
This cluster examines how the arts seek to document, interpret, influence and reflect upon society

Economy as Culture and Human Ecology
This cluster focuses on the endogenous development of communities, localities and regions, the relationship between culture and place, and utilisation of heritage as a resource.

At the IRC, we welcome enquires from academics and research students interested in collaborating with us on any of these research themes.

Author: Máiréad Nic Craith

IPCITI week at LINCS, Heriot-Watt!

IPCITI 2013 is taking place at Heriot-Watt University on the 14th-16th November. The conference is the result of a long-term collaboration between Dublin City University, Heriot-Watt University, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Manchester, and our university is hosting it for the first time in four years.
The IPCITI 2013 Organising Committee has worked hard to put together a diverse and enriching programme which will be of interest to postgraduate students across all areas of Translation and Interpreting Studies.

First of all, we would like to already thank colleagues who have supported us and helped us in different organisational spheres (you know who you are), although we will do this individually at the opening of the conference. We are well aware that this is an event where support and collaborative efforts are crucial for IPCITI 2013 to take place. Setbacks would not be overcome otherwise.

IPCITI aims to create an environment where research and academia can be accessible and enriching in real terms. It is a unique opportunity for postgraduate researchers to share and discuss their research among peers and benefit from your research expertise in a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment.

Please put the conference schedule down in your diaries, and have a look at the programme.

We look forward to seeing all delegates next week at IPCITI 2013.

The Organising Committee,
Heriot-Watt University

And here is the poster: 9th IPCITI 2013 Poster-Latest Oct2013

Research and Professional Translators and Interpreters: An odd couple?

If research is so great ... why doesn't everyone know about it?That is a question I asked at the recent BAAL conference. Without fail, all the researchers here in LINCS, from the newest PhD student to the most experienced professor feel that research is not only interesting but useful too. We have seen projects on lifting standards in police interpreting, improving public service interpreting training, ethics and user expectations. These projects have all aimed not just to look at what is going on in “real-world” translation or interpreting but to point the way towards change.

Yet the sad fact is that, even if researchers were to discover a way to revolutionise the industry overnight and triple the pay of translators and interpreters, their work is likely to fall on deaf ears. With a few exceptions, few translation and interpreting professionals will wake up with a great urge to read research journals or comb over a book of conference abstracts. Like it or not, most research is carried out by researchers, read by researchers and applied by researchers.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Many of the projects going on in LINCS today and even some that are now completed have taken place in partnership with non-academics. These might be police officers, interpreting users or even interpreters themselves. From the outset then, these projects have involved professionals in work that interests them, includes them and hopefully can have a positive effect on them.

But much more needs to be done. Only a few weeks ago, this blog hosted a lively discussion on why deaf people often don’t get involved with research on deafness or sign language. Now it is time to throw the net out in another direction. If you are a professional translator or interpreter, what are the major barriers that put you off getting involved in research or even reading it? What topics do you wish research covered? What would be the best way for researchers to appeal to you?

Over to you.

IRC Guest Lecture Series

Only two weeks ago, we published the schedule for the CTISS/Edinburgh University guest lecture series. This week we are proud to announce another guest lecture series, this time hosted by our brand new Centre for Intercultural Research (IRC). You can find the full list of IRC guest lectures below:

John Joseph, Edinburgh University

Naturalised Natives: Interpreting Identities and Face in Linguistic Interaction

Wed., 23 Oct. 2013, 4.30-6.00pm


James Costa, University of Oslo

Language standards and standard language in Scotland: the predicament of introducing the Scots language in a primary school

Wed., 20 Nov. 2013, 4.30-6.00pm


Kerstin Pfeiffer, Heriot-Watt University

Just anger? Violence and vengeance on the medieval civic stage

Wed., 27 Nov. 2013, 4.30 -6pm


Orvar Löfgren, Lund University

The messiness of research: everyday routines and rituals of Academic work.

Wed., 4 Dec. 2013, 4.30-6.00pm

Alexandre Duchêne, University of Fribourg

Unrewarded language work: exploiting linguistic resources and speakers in the contemporary workplace

Wed., 22 Jan. 2014, 4.30-6.00pm


Dawn Archer, Lancaster University

Using corpus linguistics as a way in to historical (courtroom) texts

Wed., 19 Feb. 2014, 4.30-6.00pm


  • Heriot Watt University: Mary Burton Building, room 20 (MBG20) – unless otherwise indicated.

Map at:

Author: Bernadette O’Rourke

IPCITI: Register now!

Dear colleagues,


IPCITI 2013 at Heriot-Watt University on the 14th-16th November is well under way! The IPCITI 2013 Organising Committee has worked hard to put together a diverse and enriching programme which will be of interest to postgraduate students across all areas of Translation and Interpreting Studies. You can see the full programme at:

PLEASE NOTE THAT WE EXTENDED THE REGISTRATION AND PAYMENT DEADLINES TO THE 4TH OF NOVEMBER, 2013. IPCITI 2013 has made an effort to deliver an accessible conference to postgraduate students with a reasonable delegate fee of £45. If you have not booked your place yet, it’s not too late. You have still a couple of weeks to register via our online registration website at:

We would like to place an emphasis on the fact that IPCITI is organised by postgraduates for postgraduates, so the choice of keynote speakers and workshops we have put together will be of particular interest to postgraduate students (see poster attached).

IPCITI is a collaborative project organised between Dublin City University, Heriot-Watt University, the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh. We believe that with our joint effort we can, on the one hand, promote greater participation in translation and interpreting research and address salient issues in the field; on the other, IPCITI hopes to foster a supportive environment in which young researchers can exchange ideas on current themes and issues in translation and interpreting studies.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at if you have any queries, and to disseminate the information about IPCITI 2013 amongst colleagues who might be interested in attending IPCITI this November 2013 in Edinburgh!

IPCITI 2013 Organising Committee

You can find us on Facebook at and Twitter at @IPCITI2013.

Partner Universities:


Supporting Institutions:


CTISS / Edinburgh Uni Guest Lecture series

The keen-eyed amongst you may have noticed a slight change to the LifeinLINCS website. The right-hand sidebar has now been updated to show all of this year’s CTISS/Edinburgh University guest lectures. These lectures are open to the public and completely free!

Each year, we like to bring in an international range of experts I translation and interpreting to do talks on their research. This gives you the chance to hear what is going on right now in Translation and Interpreting Studies and to question those doing the research.

So, take a look at the sidebar and come along. We look forward to seeing you there.