In this article published in The Independent recently (which I found insightful but about which many of the 128 commenters expressed reservations and doubts), Professor David Bellos, a French literary translator, sings the praises of Google Translate, that extraordinary multilingual translation tool used by millions of web surfers. Bellos illuminates several points which many casual users of Google Translate may not have been aware of, including two which aroused my special interest.
1. English is the predominant “tool” in the Google operation. Because of its ubiquitousness in print, English provides Google with the major part of the input material on which its very complex translation operations are based.
2. Literary translators (like Bellos) play a quite important part in providing the essential raw material on which Google Translate relies.
Much more importantly, this thousand word article is an extract from Bellos’s recently published book on Translation: Is that a Fish in your Ear? and the Meaning of Everything, published in USA (by Faber) and more recently in UK (by Penguin). (Check the Wikipedia page on David Bellos.)
I have just ordered a copy and will offer more comments when I receive the book.
(See also a much earlier article , with references, published by the New York Times.)