The Linguist

The Linguist 56,4 – August/September 2017

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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6 The Linguist Vol/56 No/4 2017 NEWS & EDITORIAL The latest from the languages world Within seven years, machines will be better translators than amateur bilinguals, according to a global survey by the University of Oxford. Gaining insights from 352 artifical intelligence (AI) experts – "a larger and more representative" group than previous studies of this kind – the survey aimed to determine when AI systems would begin to take over specific tasks. It concluded that 50% of human jobs will be carried out by machines by 2062, including the work of authors, shop assistants and surgeons, although no estimate was provided for when – if ever – computers would outperform professional translators. Concerns have been raised over Manchester University's plans to cut posts in Modern Languages. A third of jobs in the School of Art are at risk, with the university hoping that up to 35 people will opt for voluntary redundancy. A letter signed by 15 academics against the cuts said: "A proposal to shed linguists and cross-cultural experts is clearly against the best interests of the UK, now more than ever as we face the economic and societal complexities of leaving the EU." The move comes after the university recorded a surplus of £59.7 million in 2015-16 and received more than £3 million funding to support research in Modern Languages over a four-year period to 2020. The letter continued: "If it pushes through its plans regardless, the University of Manchester will in the medium and longer term do the UK a great disservice. In the short term, it will send a powerful and ill- timed signal about the perception of the value of European languages and cultures." Staff teaching German, French, Italian, Hebrew and Spanish have been told that their jobs are likely to go because such courses attract fewer and "lower quality" students. However, the signatories said there was no evidence to support this. The university was forced to deny that the measure, which seeks to remove 171 posts across the university, was a response to the vote to leave the European Union, after the University and College Union (UCU) said it was due to "recent government policy changes and Brexit". A spokesperson said the aim was to "enhance the student and staff experience and improve research". AI to 'take over' translator jobs Scientists are a step closer to developing a brain-boosting drug that could improve our ability to learn languages as adults. 'Plasticity' in the area of the brain responsible for auditory learning enables children to pick up languages fluently, but it declines by adulthood. During experiments with mice, researchers at St Jude Children's Research Hospital, USA were able stop the decline in the auditory thalamus. They hope their findings will be the basis for a drug that can enhance adult capacity for language learning. Scientists boost learning power Job losses at biggest UK uni The University of Cambridge has maintained its first-place ranking for the study of Modern Languages and Linguistics at UK universities. The league table, compiled by The Guardian, ranks departments according to key indicators such as student satisfaction. St Andrews leapt eight places to gain the no.2 position, with the highest score of any participating university for course satisfaction. The University of Oxford was pushed into third place, while Warwick University – in fifth place – gained the highest score for satisfaction with teaching. Three national surveys rank UK universities every year, but The Guardian is the only one to rank each university by subject. Its eight statistical measures cover how much the university spends on each student, job prospects, and satisfaction with everything from feedback to overall quality. Unlike other league tables it does not consider research. British universities continue to do well in the QS World Rankings, with Cambridge second in the world for Modern Languages for the fifth year running, and Oxford dropping to third place as Harvard gains the top spot. Although the national position of the two Russell Group universities was mirrored this year in the world rankings, there is considerable disparity between global and UK rankings. This may be due to the different criteria used, with the national league tables focusing on the student experience. Cambridge tops league table MIKE PEEL (WWW.MIKEPEEL.NET). VIA WIKIPEDIA (CC-BY-SA-4.0) © SHUTTERSTOCK

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