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The challenges of machine translation of academic publications

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Clear translation remains a major challenge to better communication and understanding of the international academic literature, despite advances in Machine Translation (MT). Automatic translation systems which captured the detail and the sense of any manuscript in any language for a reader from any other linguistic background would find global applications.

In this article, we discuss the current opportunities and constraints to the wider use of machine translation and computer-assisted human translation (CAT). At the present stage of technology development, these instruments offer a number of advantages to specialists working with scientific texts. These include the facility to skim and scan large amounts of information in foreign languages, and to act as digital dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopedias. Word-to-word and phrase-to-phrase translation between many languages and scripts is now well advanced.

The availability of modern machine translation has therefore changed the work of specialist scientific translators, placing greater emphasis on more advanced text and sense editing skills. However, machine translation is still challenged by the nuances of language and culture from one society to another, particularly in the freestyle literature of the arts and humanities. Scientific papers are generally much more structured, but the quality of machine translation still largely depends on the quality of the source text. This varies considerably between different scientific disciplines and from one author to another.

The most advanced translation systems are making steady progress. It is timely to revisit traditional training programmes in the field of written translation to focus on the development of higher-level research competencies, such as terminology search, and so to make best use of evolving machine translation technologies.

More widely, we consider that there is a challenge across the higher education systems in all countries to develop a simple, clear and consistent “international” writing style to assist fast, reliable and low-cost machine translation and hence to advance mutual understanding across the global scientific literature.

About the Authors

D. A. Rew
University Hospital Southampton
United Kingdom

MChir (Cambridge) FRCS (London);

Consultant Surgeon, University Hospital Southampton;

Subject Chair for Medicine, Scopus Content Advisory Board,


N. G. Popova
Institute of Philosophy and Law of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Federation

PhD, Senior Researcher, Centre for Theoretical Linguistics and Academic Communication, Institute of Philosophy and Law of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences;

Ambassador for the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ);

Deputy Chair of the Russian Expert Content Selection and Advisory Committee (ECSACRF);

Founder and Head of Laboratory for Scientific Translation by Natalia Popova,



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