Why Translation Is Difficult: A Corpus-based Study of Non-literality in Post-editing and From-scratch Translation

Michael Carl, Moritz Jonas Schaeffer

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The paper develops a definition of translation literality that is based on the syntactic and semantic similarity of the source and the target texts. We provide theoretical and empirical evidence that absolute literal translations are easy to produce. Based on a multilingual corpus of alternative translations we investigate the effects of cross-lingual syntactic and semantic distance on translation production times and find that non-literality makes from-scratch translation and post-editing difficult. We show that statistical machine translation systems encounter even more difficulties with non-literality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-57
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Translation
  • Post-editing
  • Non-literality
  • Statistical machine translation

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