It’s a fact that technology is evolving. I’ll come back to this in future blog posts, as there’s so much to say, but the future of the translator-craftsman is in jeopardy… Is this a good thing or are we heading for disaster? The debate is heating up in the world of translation, and opinions are still divided, but the reality is clear: ChatGPT and other DeepL tools are getting more and more precision, and their results are astonishing. Of course, these tools are not for everyone, and translation specialists still have something to say on the subject. We’ll be opening this Pandora’s box in future articles, I promise!

This month I wanted to look at the use of these tools, which some would describe as ‘magical’, in the very specific sector of legal translation, and even more so in sworn translation for government bodies (in the specific case of Belgium: SPF Justice, the prison world, public prosecutors, courts and tribunals). The conferences I attend regularly make it clear that Belgian institutions are not yet using them, at least not officially. And for a simple and good reason: with the machine, the risk of mistaken meaning in a specific context remains, and if there’s one sector where the meaning of a sentence must keep all its meaning (!), it’s the legal world.

A second reason for sticking to the craft of translation for the Belgian judiciary is that these translations are often entrusted to sworn translators who have taken an oath before the Court to translate faithfully (what is known as a ‘ne varietur’ translation) and who sign a code of ethics advocating, among other things, that the author of the translation is responsible for his or her work. So what happens to translations that the machine has done and that you have to swear to? There is a legal vacuum here and, without reproach, given the speed with which the public administration is modernising, I wouldn’t put a date on when it will be filled.

For the translator-craftsman in me, this is an opportunity not to be missed, and I have jumped in with both feet!

I’m not gullible: the day will come when the texts to be sworn to will have to be translated by machine and I’ll only serve as a proofreader for the machine, there to approve with my ‘ne varietur’ and my signature that the check has been carried out and that the text produced corresponds to the original… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I’m a stickler for craftsmanship because I believe it’s the only real way to learn. Yes, some will say I’m a grumpy old man, but that’s what it takes… Pandora’s box is open, let’s the evils on this Earth escape, let’s the translation machines have their ups and downs, for the rest, we’ll see…


Published on 1 September 2023


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