Universiteit Leiden

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Understanding (the value of) machine translation

Leiden University Lecturer Lettie Dorst wins a prestigious Comenius Senior Fellow grant for a project about machine translation and its use in higher education.

Wanting to bridge the gap between research, teaching and practice in the field of translation, she proposed a project called ‘The Value of Machine Translation in the Multilingual Academic Community’. As Dorst puts it, ‘it is my hope that a better understanding of what machine translation is and does will allow us to create a more inclusive and diverse academic multilingual community at Leiden University and beyond.

Online toolkit for understanding machine translation

Her project will develop a learning trajectory for machine translation. It will include an online toolkit offering resources for students, teachers and researchers. By means of these resources she hopes that students will be provided with the knowledge and skills they need to become critical, responsible and effective users of machine translation. But Dorst’s project is not only focused on higher education. She also hopes these resources will have a positive impact on professional practice and throughout society.

Machine translation’s bad reputation

In its relatively short existence, machine translation has received somewhat of a bad reputation and has been the butt of many a joke. ‘People tend to hate, fear or ridicule translation technology. Or they use it without thinking,’ Dorst explains. According to Dorst either case is very unfortunate, as society is dependent on translations, which are increasingly generated with the help of technology. 

She goes on to say, ‘I truly believe that no tool – and machine translation is no exception – is inherently good or evil. It is important that we understand what the tool does, and what the professional and ethical implications are of using it. Only then can we use the tool to its full potential, without harming the people it is intended to help.

Putting Translation Studies on the map

According to Dorst, the field of translation studies is widely underappreciated in the Netherlands, whether in research, education or in society as whole. ‘Most people are unaware that many of the texts they read are actually translations. Think of instructions for taking medication, websites, recipes and product manuals, to name just a few,’ she says. 

She hopes this research project will finally put translation research on the map and give it the attention it deserves. In her own words: ‘I’m looking forward to starting this project and am optimistic that it will lead to many more interesting research projects and new (inter)national collaborations in the future’.

About Lettie Dorst

Dr. A.G. (Lettie) Dorst is a University Lecturer at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL), where she teaches translation and linguistics subjects in the BA English Language and Culture, the Minor Translation and the MA Translation. Her research focuses on combinations of translation studies, stylistics, metaphor studies, genre analysis, contrastive linguistics and corpus linguistics. In her recent research projects she has been concerned with gender stereotyping in literary translation, the influence of culture on the translation of metaphor, and the effective and ethical use of tools and technology in translator training.

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