The position of machine translation in translation studies: A definitional perspective

Omri Asscher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attempts to define the concept of translation have historically both reflected and driven developments and demarcations in the field. In light of the ubiquitous rise of machine translation (MT), the current article considers how definitional approaches to translation that preceded the MT era, and were formulated with human translation in mind, correspond with today’s MT. The article engages with two influential definitional strands in the discipline: a-priori prescriptive definitions, and descriptive definitions focused on the reception of translations. The general compatibility of both definitional approaches with MT, notwithstanding some empirical and moral criticisms pertaining to the first approach, encourages us to conceive of MT as a full-fledged translational object of inquiry, fully at home in translation studies. Finally, the article suggests that shifts in the professional status of human translators may lead to new definitions, aimed at differentiating human from machine translation by focusing on the notion of (conscious) agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalTranslation Spaces(Netherland)
Issue number1
StatePublished - 9 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • conscious agency
  • definitions of translation
  • disciplinary boundaries
  • machine translation
  • prescriptive vs. descriptive definitional approaches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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