Automatic translation and its limitations - Pt. 2

November 25th, 2009
Limitations of automatic translation In the previous part of the article we discussed what machine translation is and here we continue our discussion on the limitations of machine or automatic translation. Even the most sophisticated software cannot substitute the skill of a professional translator. The reasons why machine translations are not as satisfactory as human translation are many. Ambiguity in translation is the result of one word having many meanings depending on the context. Disambiguation involves use of either shallow approach that uses statistical techniques to remove ambiguity or the deeper approach that involves comprehensive knowledge of a word. The former still leaves scope for translation error while the latter is difficult to implement in practice. Machine translation can never be a substitute for human translation because a language can be used for non communication reasons like expressing emotions, demonstrating one’s class status, telling jokes, expressing non hostile intent with strangers etc. There is often intentional or accidental ambiguity when communicating with others also referred to as ‘telling lies’. These reasons can never be satisfactorily expressed through machine translations. Cross cultural concerns increase further the complexity of translations and there is no universal structure for handling them as the culture of people varies widely from one region to another. The mathematical theory of sets suggests that computers can never fully overtake language. According to it no subset can be larger than the set of which it is a part. This tends to place language and translation outside the limits of solvable problems and into the realm of the intractable. No matter how fast a computer functions, the real problem in translation is not electronic but one of linguistics. It is hard to adequately represent through models the vast array of interconnections between the words of a single language and also the target language and correctly and completely map all the interconnections between them. It is impossible to make the correct choice between competing terms in a great majority of cases. Linguists have been raking their brains for many years without arriving at a satisfactory solution to this problem so far. As far as accuracy of machine translation is concerned, any claim can be misleading as there is no perfect way of quantifying accuracy. A language can be graded as perfect English, minimally acceptable English and so on and these are subjective and can not be quantified easily. Also even those machine translations that claim 90% accuracy will have one error in every line! Any work of high or even medium literary value requires human translation to maintain quality. The presumption that machine translation is less expensive than human translation is questionable when one considers the overall cost of maintaining large mainframe systems and also the human post editing required to attain desired quality levels. To conclude, machine translation can only assist in improving the translator’s productivity by increasing translation speed and overall translation quality and cannot be by itself a substitute for quality human translation. --- One Hour Translation is the world’s fastest professional translation service. One Hour Translation provides Fast, High Quality Expert Translation service on a 24/7 basis thanks to a community of over 8000 certified translators from all over the world.

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