Machine translation, ethics and the literary translator's voice

Dorothy Kenny*, Marion Winters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
1398 Downloads (Pure)


Recent work in translation studies has established the literary translator's voice as an ethical concern, but there has been little empirical research so far into how the translator's voice is affected in workflows involving machine translation. In this article, we investigate how the use of neural machine translation influences the textual voice (Alvstad et al. 2017) of renowned translator from English into German, Hans-Christian Oeser. Based on an experiment in which Oeser post-edits an excerpt from a novel he had previously translated, we show how his textual voice is somewhat diminished in his post-edited work compared to its stronger manifestation in his translation work. At the same time Oeser's contextual voice (ibid.) remains strong in his comments on the text he produces in post-editing mode. The article is offered as a methodological intervention and represents an initial attempt to design studies in literary machine translation that put the focus on human translators, allowing their voices to be heard more clearly than has previously been the case.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-149
Number of pages27
JournalTranslation Spaces
Issue number1
Early online date17 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Contextual voice
  • Literary translation
  • Neural machine translation
  • Textual voice
  • Translator style
  • Translator's voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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