This post was written by Sonyia Williams, Los Alamos World Futures Institute Intern.
One of the most prevalent obstacles standing in the way of universal communication among mankind is the language barrier. This language barrier, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as being “a barrier to communication between people who are unable to speak a common language”, prevents worldwide communication between people of all countries, cultures, and, most of all, languages.
But what steps have been taken to surpass this barrier? One solution to this problem is the use of international auxiliary languages (IALs). These languages cater specifically to those who speak a different language but are trying to communicate. There are two auxiliary languages in use today- Esperanto and Interlingua. These are languages that are typically spoken as a second language and are largely based on the Romance languages. However, auxiliary languages are just one of many ways to overcome the language barrier.
We live in an era of rapid globalization, which leads to a growing demand for language services. Common Sense Advisory, an independent analyst firm that focuses on this area, estimates the demand for language services will grow 12 percent annually. With this kind of growth, human translators simply cannot keep up with demand. Thankfully, with globalization also comes extensive technological advancements, some of which can be used for translation and overcoming the language barrier. Translation technology solves this problem in two ways. One way is by enabling translation at a mechanical level, meaning there is no need for human involvement after the initial programming. This makes the translation process more efficient and accessible. The second part of the solution has to do with employing translation technology. By employing translation technology, human translator productivity increased by up to 400 percent. Ultimately, translation is important because it allows for communication between multiple languages and allows people to better understand each other socially, culturally, and economically on a global scale. By utilizing advancing technology, translation can become easier and ubiquitous around the world.
In order to create a technological translator, there first needs to be the development of a language pair, the corresponding words between a source language and translated language. Typically, this will only be developed if it is commercially viable, which is determined by the market. For example, in the U.S, the languages with the highest demand are Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil), and languages of Asian origin. These language pairs, such as programs translating phrases from English to Simplified Chinese, can take as little as a month to develop, but this time differs from language pair to language pair. But what makes hybrid machine translation technology so unique is that new language pairs can be developed with much less data than either statistical or rules-based engines alone.
The two main approaches to machine translation are generally rule-based (RBMT) and statistical (SMT). RBMT involves manually programmed rules to translate one language to another. SMTs take the content programmed by the RBMT systems and determines which words and phrases have the highest possibility of conveying the correct meaning. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but by combining the two approaches together in the same engine, a method known as hybridization, language pairs can be developed with higher efficiency and less pre-translated “training” data. This provides a solution to two main barriers to the automation and accuracy of a language pair: not having enough translated data available and the perpetual evolution of language.
Language and culture are highly related; language plays a necessary role in the diffusion of cultures around the world. There are many benefits of the spread of culture through the use of this technology. One is that different cultural perspectives are presented to a wider audience. This will lead to the publicizing of more perspectives and hopefully a better understanding of them. A second benefit is that cultural knowledge will become much more accessible regardless of the socioeconomic conditions that may have prevented some cultures from either sharing their culture or taking advantage of new cultural influences, both being problems which can be solved with the utilization of more advanced translation technology. With the development and increasing use of machine translators, more connections can be established around the world and people can communicate with more efficiency and less difficulty than has been possible in the past.