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Distributed Translation Project 227

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the how-long-before-it-does-klingon dept.
moon unit beta writes "New Scientist has this story about a new plan to build a multi-language translation database called the World Wide Lexicon, using a distributed community of volunteers. The designer compares it to a distributed computing project and believes it could make it easier to translate more obscure languages."
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Distributed Translation Project

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  • i wonder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by runtimeerror7 (244061) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:38PM (#3292245)
    "This will automatically detect when the computer user is less busy and ask them to translate a word or phrase."

    i wonder how its gonna detect when the user is not busy. this software can never be installed on something like my home computer where i leave my DSL on to make it work on SETI.
  • by food-n-bev (570990) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:38PM (#3292249)
    ...believes it could provide a free way to translate the many languages not included in existing online translators...

    What's in it for the volunteers? Seems that novelty might bring experts in to volunteer short term, but when businesses, academics, etc. begin using the service in volume, it really will cry out for commercialization. The volunteers won't stick around performing translations gratis forever. At some point you have to pay them per translation or provide some other compensation (perhaps a /. like karma system?)

    The related bigger question will be whether this model ultimately proves to deliver quality translations at a lower cost than a traditional translation service. I don't see how this could happen if you have to still have a language expert look at the full translation as a whole to ensure that contextual subtleties are not lost.

  • by Liora (565268) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:40PM (#3292266) Journal
    Great! Now we'll have Engrish resulting not just terrible Japanese->English translation, but all kinds of other languages too. Eventually the web will be so filled with bad grammar that the next generation will have no idea how to string a simple sentence together. Looks like we will have to start compiling our correspondance after all... for coherence.
  • by soap.xml (469053) <ryanNO@SPAMpcdominion.net> on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:41PM (#3292275) Homepage

    [snip]"One of the main problems is quality assurance," says Ramesh Krishnamurthy, a linguistics expert at the University of Wolverhampton, in the UK. "Translation is a highly developed skill." [snip] But Paul Rayson, a research fellow at Lancaster University, adds that unskilled translators may confuse the meaning of individual words. "The problem is you generally need the context to get a good translation," he says.[snip]

    This looks like it will be a very cool project, but for corporate/buisiness use I don't think it would ever fly.

    If you have ever played in the area of i18n then you will quickly understand why this pbly won't work perfectly. There are so many caveats to each language, tone, context etc... This might be a useful starting point for transaltion services, but for the final cut, it would still need to be checked and double checked by a translation service.

    I still think its very cool though ;)

    -ryan
  • by carm$y$ (532675) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:46PM (#3292311) Homepage
    It's a matter of days until someone will request a log of people connecting to the server during work-hours... Here is the beauty of the seti@home client: computers can have spare cycles, people don't.
  • by ThinkingGuy (551764) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:46PM (#3292313) Homepage
    One of the big issues with translating between human languages is context. While many words have more or less direct equivilants in other languages ("dog"(en) "perro"(es)), you're always going to run into slang, cultural references, and especially, jargon, where the particular usage will not be in a standard dictionary, and only by the context can the actual meaning be inferred (Example: the word "anchor" in the context of sailing versus the context of webpage design).
    Not that this can't be overcome with the distributed model the article discusses, but I still think it will be a while before we see computer translation that doesn't require at least some degree of human assistance.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:47PM (#3292326)
    I'm not a translator but during college I worked with a comparative lit professor who translated novels from spanish into english. The problem with translation is wrestling with the subtle shades of meaning that every single word has and to find its perfect pair in the language you're translating into. Then you have to adress the context in which the word was written (the larger sentence--what information is it trying to convey, what mood (much trickier) is it trying to imply, and finally does this match the author's style and the novel's tone (this is what truly makes translation an art).

    This is a bad example but just so you get the idea, it's hard even english to english:

    original:

    John hurried to the shopping mall.

    variants:

    John made great haste to get to the shopping centre.

    John ran to his destination, the shopping mall.

    John rushed to the store.

    John spared not the whip in perambulating to the suburban commericial district.

    John ran off to waste time at the corporate copyright paradise.

    blah blah blah...
  • by Kphrak (230261) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:55PM (#3292391) Homepage

    Yes, you can do a word-for-word translation of most words in any language. No, you'll need a very sophisticated system to get the meaning to a reader.

    The main problem is that sentence structures are different, idioms get in the way, and words have more than one meaning. A human translator has the power to take a set of words, convert it to an idea, and put out a different set of words, something no machine can do.

    Here's a lamebrained example: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Convert that to Russian and back and you might get, "The liquor will do it but the meat is bad." For a hands-on example, try converting the first few paragraphs of a news article into French using The Fish [altavista.com]. On a personal note, I had a conversation with a German guy on ICQ once, using the fish. The results were...interesting. I also read Indonesian newspapers [kompas.com], and I assure you that a literal translator would hurt itself quite badly on this...let alone a less English-like language such as Arabic or Japanese.

    That being said, why not use distributed human computing for the thing it's good at? Instead of translating words, how about sentences? You can get at the ideas much better this way. Those sentences that hadn't been translated yet could show up as literal words; those words that hadn't been translated would show up natively. I mean, if you've got human translators for this, you can do things that are not restricted to computers. I can think of a lot neater things the guy proposing this can do with this idea than what he's come up with so far.

  • by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Friday April 05, 2002 @04:00PM (#3292441) Homepage Journal
    First off I'm going to guess that 90% of the folks who will be posting gung-ho comments on this will be unilingual Americans. The folks posting against it will be those who're bilingual and ever read the "same" document in both languages.

    It doesn't work. If translating were so simple for machines to do they'd be doing a fine job. However good translation requires context, insight, emotional inflection, etc. Even then each and every one ends up different; sometimes subtly sometimes blatantly.

    Just as machine translation sux at these so will distributed translation. Reading a paragraph or a page doesn't tell enough about the feel, flow, or tone of a document. There are numerous words and phrases that can be interpreted multiple ways between any two languages and will be, each time differently by each interpreter.

    If you don't know this already then go and look up any document (books and short stories are easy to find, so is poetry) that has been translated more then once. Take a look at the different translations and ask yourself - "Are these really from the same source document?"

    Now imagine trying to read something composed of alternating paragraphs or pages from each translation: Incoherence.

    Distributed problem solving works for subjects with clearly defined data sets, methodologies, and standards; not human language.

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