Power Relations in Translation

In the presentation project, I choose to focus on the future whether AI translating technology could possibly be applied to language documentation industry. When thinking upon the question whether I think such a development being made on this digital phenomena is a good thing or not, in my personal point of view, I think it could be both respectively onto the perspective we take from language preservation or on the power relationship dwelling in the translation process, referencing act, the referent as well as the agent enact referring.

Insofar,most of the world’s 6800 languages are relatively unstudied and in spite of the scientific importance of the world’s languages, however, computational linguistics research has only touched about 1% of them. In 100 years, 90% will be extinct or on the way out (Krauss, 2007). From the perspective of language documentation, when source texts are translated into a major world language, we in a way guarantee that the language documentation will be interpret-able even after the language has fallen out of use or its original lack of written form. Second, when a surviving speaker can identify errors in the output of an MT system, we have timely evidence of those areas of grammar and lexicon that need better coverage while there is still time to collect more.

But when we take it a more sociological perspective examining translation itself, power relationship is always inevitably involved in the play. For some of the languages, the text collection may only amount to a few thousand words. However, we may still expect a real bilingual person to translate it  to another language equivalent to 10 million words, or 1,000 hours of speech. Power thus plays in the role in the process of translation. Translation had been a major shaping force in the development of world culture. This perspective on translation simultaneously allowed for a stronger emphasis on ideology, politics, ethics, and hegemony and it could be involved in the process of referencing, the referent and the agent (the translator) himself. 

During Taiwanese presidential election, some of politicians once proposed ‘bilingual’ policy, aiming at positioning English as the second official language (the only official languages now in Taiwan is Chinese) in an attempt to boost our nation’s international competitiveness. Those who for this policy insist on the prevalence of world wide English use. From the perspective of the markets and ‘lingua franca’ function, English is no doubt dominating not just in Asia but also most of European countries as well. On the other hands, those who against the policy deem this obvious distinguishing the hierarchy between languages might imbalance the status of different languages. Taiwan has an abundant ethnic groups and composing of over 20 different languages (not dialects but languages). However, due to the number of population of each speaking group has great difference, the distribution of power is not always very equal. Due to the preference of using certain languages, most of the languages are endangered. Language documentation is in the purpose of preserving so called dying languages. However, it does involve in concerns of polarizing and the distributing the dominant languages and ‘weak’ languages as well as the cultures embedded in when it comes to translation.