August 19, 2016


The Global New Light of Myanmar of 5-8-2015 issue carried a very interesting news story under the title of “PPE, NICT sign MoU on Translation by machine”.
According to the news, Printing and Publishing Enterprise (PPE) under the Ministry of Information signed an MoU on translation by Machine with National Institute of Information and communications Technology of Japan at the hall of PPE (Yangon Headquarters) on 4 August, 2015. Managing Director of PPE U Aung Myo Myint and Vice Chairman of NICT Dr. Shinro Mashiko extended greetings. NICT signed the three-year term MoU with Myanmar as 10th country in 2011-2015.
We know that thanks to the MoU, both sides can exchange staff visits and research, information exchange, upgrading of research and holding technological meetings and workshops. The MoU aims to ease language difficulties between the countries.
The news will be a great encouragement to the Sarpay Beikman, or Palace of Literature formerly known as BTS: Burma Translation Society which is one of the branches of the Printing and Publishing Enterprise. The news also reveals that the officials of PPE and the Ministry of Information never lose sight of translation works. It reminds me of a talk by U Thant, Former UN Secretary-General (Then Secretary of Information) at the British Council on the 5th April, 1950. An excerpt from his talk will be given:-
“The Burma Translation Society was founded in August, 1947, sponsored by Premier Thakin Nu, who is himself a writer and translator of no small merit. In fact, the Burma Translation Society was the child of his life-long dream and it was his idea to make modern and scientific knowledge available to the country at large by means of translation.” In adopting the aims and objects of the Burma Translation Society, the two points—(1) to undertake the translation into Burmese of any publication in English or other foreign language which is likely to be conducive to the intellectual and cultural development of the indigenous races of Burma; and (2) to undertake or encourage the translation into any foreign language of any of the standard works in the Burmese language or any of the languages of Burma” are included in the rules of BTS (From “The Rules of the Burma Translation Society”). The Burma Translation Society, indeed, is the result derived from the 1947 Sorrento Villa Conference. At the conference, Bogyoke Aung San, the architect of the national independence, pointed out the need to form a translation association for public education promotion. Because of his urge, the Burma Translation Society (BTS) was founded on 26 August in 1947. The society, once upon a time, was the acme of earlier movements which intended to make available good published materials in Myanmar. However, the name of BTS was changed because its programme far outgrew the original intention of its founders to simply “translate” the world knowledge. Anyhow, the MoU on translation by machine may give a clarion call to the translation industry which is still making efforts for emergence of a booming or boosting enterprise. However, translators want to know the puzzles. “Can a machine outdo a man who is a translator? Can it overcome a dilemma in translating?” Today, almost everything is changing. Science and technologies are improving or advancing at an alarming rate. But, according to Sayagyi Thakin Ba Thaung, translation is an art. As for a translator, he may face a dilemma in translating. Once writer C.T.Aung (U Aung Chan Tha, a retired diplomat) revealed the difficulties in translating Shwe Thway, a bilingual weekly children’s journal, published by Sarpay Beikman— “On one occasion, I came across the expression ‘Karuna Dosa’. This is very well-known among the Burmese but I had a fairly difficult time looking for a suitable English equivalent. A comic journal by its very nature contains many informal words and expressions. Every living language changes and some erstwhile slang words come to be accepted as regular ones. I’d been somewhat out of touch with some of the latest expressions (particularly those used by the young) but the present duty has compelled me to overcome this failing as much as possible. (The Guardian Magazine, Vol.27, No.5, May 1980, P.20). What he said was quite true. When I joined the Sarpay Beikman and became an editor of Shwe Thway, I came to know the difficulties. In those day, the translators are Sayagyi U Win Pe (Mya Zin), U Ko Ko (Motley Ko Ko), U Aung Chan Tha (C.T.Aung), Mr. Paul Aung Khin (P.Aung Khin) and U Paw Htin (Jimmy Paw Htin). Later, Guardian U Kyaw Min (Min Kyaw Min) and U Khin Maung Aye (KMA) became translators for Shwe Thway. Now, the writer of this article and U Khin Maung Lay (KML) who worked as Executive Editor of Shwe Thway for a long time are engaged as translators. Although the veteran translators were well-versed in English, they did not want me to use high words. On one occasion, when I translated the word “bk&m;pif” as “Household Shrine”, they asked me to use “Payazin”. In order to translate from Myanmar into English, one needs to be able to express oneself in the latter fairly well. A translator’s main job is only to translate but there are time when he come across some slangs, argots and street words such as  “မိုက်တယ်” “အာလူးလာမပေးနဲ့” “ပဲများနေတယ်” “မြွေဖမ်းနေတယ်”  “ဖလန်း ဖလန်း” and so on. Sometimes, we find that although we are able to translate some speech or artical into English within a short time, we have to take time to translate the stories of Shwe Thway. It is simply because translation must be according to the context, which is a constant headache to us. We cannot deny that there are only a handful of efficient translators. Among them, those who translate the literary works of Myanmar into English are few and far between. I do not mean that there are no translators who translate the works of Myanmar into English but we can count them on our fingers. According to my experience, there is no translator who does not face a dilemma in translating. Translators have to make the same efforts to translate a literary work whether it is difficult or easy. Now is the time when new generation of translators are trying their best to catch up with the senior professional translators. In such a time, translation by machine may contribute much to novice translators and veterans alike. I for one, machine is machine and man is man. It is quite different. Please don’t forget three Ms—Man Matters Most!


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