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What is a CAT Tool? (a short introduction)

CAT tools are designed to help translators translating texts. How does MetaTexis achieve this? In the following paragraphs, I will try to explain the basic functions of MetaTexis and, indeed, of any CAT tool.

Translators do not translate words. For, even if words do have a meaning, they are not understood correctly unless they are interpreted within their context. Every translator has to learn that, rather than to translate words, he/she has to express the meaning of the source text with the words of the target language, using a new syntactical structure, leaving behind the structure of the source text.

If a translator does not translate words, what does he/she do, then? A translator translates sentences. One could say that a sentence is both the smallest and the biggest unit a translator can handle. This is neither meant to be a philosophical remark about the nature of meaning, nor a linguistic remark about the nature of words and sentences. It is simply a matter of fact from a practical point of view. Translators usually do not translate whole texts, or whole paragraphs - even if they have to have them in mind as a background. Translators usually translate a text going from sentence to sentence simply because a sentence in general is the biggest text unit one can have a good overview about. At the same time, it is usually the smallest unit with a consistent meaning.

Therefore, from a practical point of view, we can assume that translators deal with sentences. Unfortunately, text documents do not present sentences in a translator-friendly way. Text documents are optimized for reading, not for translating. The sentences are usually grouped together in paragraphs, and sometimes they cannot be easily distinguished.

And here is where a CAT tool starts to help, and we have arrived at the first basic function: A CAT tool presents sentences to the translator in a convenient way.

However, to say this is not quite correct. Of course, CAT tools are not intelligent enough to understand the meaning of a text. Therefore, it is not guaranteed that it presents proper sentences in all cases. (Sometimes this is difficult even for intelligent people - another philosophical problem.). For this reason, it is a common habit to use the word "segment" rather than "sentence".

To present a segment is no big deal. There must be more in a CAT tool.

The segments are not merely presented; they are presented in a way that you can enter the translation right below the source text. This enables a translator to compare source and translation directly without having to look at two different places. And, on top of this, the translation is stored in the same place as the source text so that you can come back to the source text at a later time to improve the translation.

Thus, the second basic function of a CAT tool is to present a source segment and its translation as a unit. This unit is usually called a "translation unit", or "TU".

Even if a CAT tool would stop at this point, it would be very helpful for translators, simply because the process of translating is more efficiently organized. But a CAT tool can do much more.

Especially in the case of technical translations and revised texts, a translator encounters segments which he/she has already translated before (or similar ones). In former times, when a translator realized that this was the case, he/she had to look up old translations, stored on paper in files. As this was usually very time-consuming, the translator very often decided, rather, to re-translate the segment from scratch.

With a CAT tool, this is no longer necessary. A CAT tool provides functions which do this task for you.

Of course, a CAT tool cannot look up these segments in books or papers. There has to be a database where the source text and the translation, that is, the translation units, are stored. This database is usually called "translation memory", or "TM". Any CAT tool stores the translation units in a translation memory either immediately after each segment has been translated, or at a later time.

The third basic function of a CAT tool is to store the translation units in a translation memory (TM) and to automatically look up the TM when a new segment has to be translated. Any result of the TM search is presented in a convenient way so that it can be re-used by the translator.

Through this feature, the working time for a translation can be drastically reduced, especially in the case of revisions or repetitive texts. (The re-use of translated segments is also called "leverage" or "leverage effect".)

Of course, translators do not deal with sentences or segments as an atomic unit. Sentences are made of words. And to know the meaning of a sentence essentially depends on knowing what the individual words can mean. Therefore, before CAT tools were invented, dictionaries and glossaries used to be the main tool of every translator. And looking up the relevant dictionaries was a time-consuming part of translatorsí working life. As with many other CAT tools, MetaTexis also includes special functions to make dictionary and glossary look-up more efficient.

The fourth basic function of a CAT tool is the automatic look-up in terminology databases, and the automatic display and insertion of the search results.

Beyond the four basic functions of a CAT tool, there are other very useful functions. I will not go into detail now; below I will only list a few of the features:

       Text search tools

       Index/concordance tools

       Quality checking through automatic watch list checking, or through applying formal rules

       Tools for post-production (e.g. correct formatting)

       Statistical tools providing information about the translation process (number of words translated, time worked, cost calculation etc.)

       Import/Export tools

       Alignment Tool. Many translations have not been translated with the help of a CAT tool, so that they are not available in TMs for further usage. To enable the translator to save these texts in a TM, many CAT tools offer a special tool to produce TMs. This is usually called an "alignment tool".

       Special Internet tools to retrieve information through/from the Internet

All these functions are offered by MetaTexis, and they are all described in this manual. Each can speed up the translation process and improve the quality of your translations. MetaTexis can make your job more profitable. Or, you can have more free time - it's your choice!