Human evaluations of machine translation in an ethically charged situation

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15 Scopus citations


Despite the immense influence of machine translation (MT) on cross-cultural communication worldwide, little is known about end users’ predispositions toward MT. Our online experiment (N = 284) compares people’s perceptions of MT and human translation in an ethically charged situation, in which the translation serves an immigrant worker in an interaction defined by power imbalance. Using hierarchical linear regression, we found that an otherwise identical translation was evaluated differently when it was attributed to MT or human translation. Results reveal that translators and non-translators alike exhibit a negative bias toward the MT product when asked to assess its accuracy and reliability, its ability to convey cultural and emotional otherness, and its potential effectiveness in helping the disadvantaged immigrant in need of the translation. We also demonstrate how lower evaluations of the MT product lead to a stronger wish to intervene in the translation by introducing changes to the original message. Our results suggest that predispositions toward MT must be taken into account in any consideration of MT-mediated communication, as these predispositions may shape the communicative act itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1087-1107
Number of pages21
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number5
Early online dateJun 2021
StatePublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Human perceptions of MT
  • MT and cross-cultural communication
  • MT in ethically charged communication
  • lay use of MT
  • machine translation (MT)
  • social implications of MT


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