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The findings in this case study allow two main arguments about translation technologies in the 2011 disaster to be put forward. The first is that the use of translation technologies was limited and the second is that, when translation technologies were used, they were focused on their application to television and online news.

Some Reasons Translation Technology Use Was Limited

One reason for the limited use of translation technology in the 2011 disaster was probably the preponderance of live-speech mediation needs. These needs can be seen in how active the professional and non-professional interpreter community in the Japanese locale was in the aftermath of the disaster. For instance, the searchable archives of one professional translation forum, Honyaku ML, show that calls for interpreters outweighed calls for ТА

translations in the early stages of the emergency. Live speech produces no text or recording and is often spontaneous, unplanned, and face-to-face. Thus, it lends itself well to mediation by humans but, at the present time, is dealt with less well by technology. Another reason for the limited use of translation technology is that any technology in times of disaster is dependent on functioning infrastructure and ample power supplies (Kaigo 2012). In the worst-hit areas of the disaster zone in the 2011 disaster, power was down and networks were congested or inoperable for extended periods (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication 2011). Also, as several participants pointed out in their accounts of the disaster, linguistic mediation requires investments of time, money, and specialised skills that may not be a priority in high-stress disaster situations where resources are already limited and where the needs of foreign residents may be relatively small compared to the needs of the overall affected population. It is worth emphasising here, though, that international first responders may not speak the local language of the disaster setting and may depend on linguistic mediation. This was the case in the 2011 disaster. For instance, a report prepared for the US Congress six days after onset explicitly mentions ten-member teams of translators, communication experts, and combat medics being sent to Japan to help Japanese forces (Feickert and Chanlett-Avery 2011).

This is not to say that no evidence was found for the use of translation technologies in the 2011 disaster. For example, technology companies such as Google and Yahoo! used MT to make their crisis information pages available in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean (Google Crisis Response 2012). In another effort, volunteers worked together to create a map called sinsai.info that made use of the Ushahidi crisis-mapping software platform similar to that used in Haiti (Appleby 2013). This map took social media messages - mostly via Twitter - and displayed them using the GPS information contained in the messages, having translated them using the Google Translate API. Translation technologies were also used to enable interpreting at a distance. For instance, one online interpretation service called Babelverse provided its platform for free to crisis workers and bilingual volunteers. In the first two

days of operation more than 100 volunteers provided about 400 hours of 31

interpreting. [1] [2]

  • [1] Honyaku ML is available from: http://goo.gl/KB0CHz [Accessed 29 August 2014].
  • [2] Babelverse explains its crisis response efforts here: http://babelverse.com/blog/2011/12/the-babelverse-story-crisis-response/ [Accessed 29 August 2014].
 
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