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Copyright 2001
Translation Research Group
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Last updated:
April 12, 2001
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Machine Translation

What is machine translation?


People who need documents translated often ask themselves whether they could use a computer to do the job.

When a computer translates an entire document automatically and then presents it to a human, the process is called machine translation. When a human composes a translation, perhaps calling on a computer for assistance in specific tasks such as looking up specialized words and expressions in a dictionary, the process is called human translation.

There is a gray area between human and machine translation, in which the computer may retrieve whole sentences of previously translated text and make minor adjustments as needed. However, even in this gray area, each sentence was originally the result of either human translation or machine translation. We will reserve the label "machine translation" for the case when both the initial translation of the sentences and subsequent manipulations are performed by a computer. All else we will call "translator tools".

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