The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020 - 28

WOMEN AND MACHINE TRANSLATION continued
If you want to work in MT development, you need to have
some background in coding, which is not typically part of a
degree in languages or translation. Maybe it should be! But at
present, it's not the norm. In Canada, this usually means studying
computer science, or some other program that has a strong
software engineering component. It's pretty common nowadays
for graduate programs in computer science to offer courses in
natural language processing, whereas graduate programs in
translation offer courses in translation technologies that focus on
technology use rather than on its development. So, to my mind,
the most typical path to MT development would be through
a computer science program rather than through a translation
program. There certainly seem to be fewer women in computer
science programs at the present time, though there are initiatives
to increase the number of women in the STEM fields, so hopefully
we'll see progress in this regard moving forward.

Researchers are taking steps to include the
communities that their work is intended to help
more fully into the research process.

As far as I know, it's generally encouraged to increase
diversity in the computer science field in general, and
MT development is a subfield of computer science in this
context. Both companies and universities strongly encourage
qualified women candidates to apply for jobs, and various
programs exist to make women's presence in the field stronger.
I don't think one can define any " threshold, " though as I
mentioned previously women are already under-represented in
computer science departments.

V

Any imbalance in the field of MT mirrors the imbalance
in STEM. In my institution, I see proactive efforts to
address this issue-not just in STEM but in computer science
and natural language processing as well-by seeking to
increase the number of women studying in these fields. In fact,
at the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology at Dublin
City University, there are currently seven men and 10 women,
the latter ranging from the level of professor, through research
fellow, post-doc, PhD, and project staff.
There's another issue here that I think is equally important,
which is interdisciplinarity. As Lynne says, the route for
anyone into MT development is normally through a computer
science (or related) degree. Most MT developers " see " the
world through that lens. In MT development and deployment,
that typically led to a focus on measuring " success " in
computational ways (through BLEU scores, for example), using
data that was limited and not checked for quality. Increases
in BLEU scores (or equivalent) are emphasized rather than an
impact on end users. Having people on your MT development
team with linguistic, translation, and human-computer
interaction skills in general means that you have a much

S

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The ATA Chronicle | November/December 2020

stronger team who see the world through different lenses. This
should ultimately make your science and technology more
robust and acceptable. The big issue for me is not how many
women are working with MT, but how many people from
different disciplines are contributing to the development and
measurement of success?
What I think I'm hearing all three of you say is that
people with linguistic skills would be helpful. And if
that's the case, do they necessarily need the coding and STEM
skills you mention? (Although, I really like Lynne's suggestion
that coding should probably be part of translation programs!)

J

Yes, but a considerable challenge is bridging gaps.
Therefore, it makes sense for the computational people
to understand translation (and translators and end users of
translation) and for linguists to understand coding. We've
started to address this in our MSc in translation technology
program, where our students used to take a course in Java
programming (now moving to Python). This course is also
delivered to students in other faculties, and I don't mind
boasting that our students do really well, probably because
they " get " language. This opens the door for them into MT
development companies, where they will not necessarily do
coding but will understand what's going on. Other master's
programs have also started to introduce coding modules.

S

V

I totally agree with Sharon. I think it's important that we
" speak the same language " to better work together.

At the moment, our translation program doesn't include
coding, although students could certainly take this as an
elective. There are some humanities coding courses offered, such
as through the digital humanities minor. But we don't have a
program specifically dedicated to translation technology, as
Sharon describes at Dublin City University. For many years,
universities were very discipline-based, and so language and
computing were essentially in separate silos. But in the past 50
years or so, interdisciplinarity has begun to emerge. In the early
days, it was mostly just lip service since the longstanding siloed
structures of academia made it difficult to put into action.
However, these structural hurdles are gradually disappearing, and
I suspect that as universities continue to embrace
interdisciplinarity, more programs such as " translation
technology " will appear. And it's in this interdisciplinary space
that people can be properly supported to develop hybrid skill sets
(e.g., language plus coding) and then go on to act as bridges.

L

Would this field look different if more women were
present? Both and maybe separately in academia and
industry. Would MT itself be different?

J

I'm not sure how the men/women parity would transform
the field of MT development. What would be interesting is
if MT developers started to work closely with MT users (who, as
Lynne mentioned, are mostly women). That could definitely push
MT research in a slightly different direction, which could benefit
both sides (MT developers and MT users).

V

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The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020

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