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Julian Zapata Rojas

Julian Zapata Rojas
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The End of CAT

Published by Jzapa026@uottawa.ca on 2011-08-08

You did not misread. This might be it: the end of CAT. And yes, CAT as in “Computer-Assisted Translation”, as we all know it. But before you go judging me, let me state that this is not something I ever thought I’d be caught dead saying.


Not that I have stopped believing in CAT. Actually, I still think of CAT day and night. And day by day, my research ideas are growing bolder. So how can I still be so enthusiastic about something that is –apparently- coming to an end?


I like evolution, and Computer-Assisted Translation is one of the most tangible examples of the rapid evolution of a technology, going in just a few decades from the word processors that came with the first PCs to highly sophisticated “translation environments” (TEnTs), which are now widely commercialized and used. It’s growing so fast that even the term CAT is bound to disappear. And that, my friends, comes with evolution.


So, it is more a terminological issue that I am dealing with here. I exposed in one of my earliest postings that translation technologies are not being perceived and taught the same ways in Canadian universities. Just by looking at the course titles in the various universities, one can see the discrepancies between the terms used to talk about translation technologies. You may want to go back to my list of technology-related courses in ten different translation programs. It becomes much more interesting when you look at course titles in French… (I was surprised to see that some are still afraid of merging informatique and traduction into “traductique”).


But the problem is not only found in course titles, but also in all kinds of documentation, from books to journal articles to vendors' promotional material. Even scholars and researchers have not come to a consensus on how to name the matter of their research. I have been a victim of this, and you have too.


As I read my colleagues’ blog posts, I realize that I am not alone to be missing an informed clarification about what is CAT, what is a translation technology, what is a language technology, and so on. Indeed, these terms are not interchangeable and have not always been used the correct way. Perhaps I do not possess the academic authority to decide what terms are to be adopted or discarded, but lately I have tried to use the right term where I believe is being used correctly.


Some translation scholars have attempted to create and update translation glossaries so that everybody in the field speaks the same language. One of them is Anthony Pym –a name you can’t miss if you are in the field of Translation Studies- with his recent: “Translation research terms: a tentative glossary for moments of perplexity and dispute” (2011). This glossary was compiled on the basis of doubts that have arisen in discussions with fellow researchers, and has two mayor aims: to alert researchers to some of the ambiguities and vagaries of fairly commonplace nomenclatures, and to standardize terms across research projects in a particular field (say, for example, translation technologies).


So what about the term “CAT”? It needs to be compliant with evolution. It needs to give way to both more general and more specific terms. (Go see what Pym has to say in his glossary). What exactly is a CAT tool? Is Microsoft Word a CAT tool? Were word processors thought for translators? How about online dictionaries and corpora? The fact that we use Word, Wordreference.com and Wikipedia in our translation workflow does not mean that they are translation technologies. They were thought as language technologies, just as anything that concerns the interaction between computers and human language –this is what we call Natural Language Processing (NLP). Indeed, there are many NLP applications that are not conceived for translators, like speech processing (text-to-speech and speech recognition systems). Well, not yet.


Thus, saying “language technologies” might be too general, and saying “CAT” not specific enough. What is being suggested is that we give a clear reference to the technology actually involved (e.g. translation memory, machine translation, terminology management system, concordancer, localization software, translation environment), knowing that all of them are just examples of languages technologies (and specifically designed for translation purposes, whereas Microsoft Word with its spell-checker and Dragon Naturally Speaking are not!).


See? I rarely use the term CAT now –it does not tell me much. I sense that with the evolution of knowledge and technology comes the evolution of terms, and therefore, of language use (hasn’t it always been that way?). Now that I have attempted to clarify the use of this terminology for myself and for you, I would suggest that you do what I am going to do now: to double-check all my work and see where I can replace my terms and use more accurate ones, and continue doing the same from now on, in order to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation in future discussions.


Translation technologies are here to stay, but the term CAT is bound to fade away. 


Julian Zapata Rojas