What happens when we translate?

Research on brain activity, eye and finger movements can provide new answers to what happens when a human is busy trying understand and translating text.

Expert translation allows for insight into how the meaning is understood and formulated if we examine some linguistic activity, according to Professor Antin Rydning of the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages at the University of Oslo (UiO).

What happens when we translate?She heads the University section of the comprehensive EU-funded project EYE-to-IT, which aims to gain greater insight into the pivotal cognitive functions such as understanding and formulation.

She investigated the processes that occur when a professional translator is working in front of a computer, hoping they’ll provide this new insight.

Electrodes on the head measure brain activity (EEG) of the translator during the process, a camera catches the eye migration (input) and the editor reads the finger’s movements (output).

The instrumental measurements from the translator’s work in front of the computer are the collection of data that can be researched further.

The project started in 2006 and has participants in Denmark, Finland, Bulgaria, Austria, Sweden and Norway.

Researchers come from very different environments, from psycho-and neuro-linguistics to computer technology, language theory and translation studies.

Together they have managed to find common tools and methods to get three different types of technology to work integrated in the research.

Eye and fingers

— Even with very different backgrounds and terminology we hope to succeed in understanding what is required to perform the work ahead. We have designed it all together and each of us makes the pieces we are good at, explains Antin Clearance.

Now, when the system of feedback is clear, it may be used in the opposite direction – to give the translator an equally quick feedback in return.

Imagine that exactly the word (or a good suggestion) that you as a translator are looking for in memory, pops up on the screen just when you need it, after picking up the signals of the brain, eye and fingers going into the computer.

In this perspective, the project could have major cultural and industrial importance.

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