Breaking Down the Language Barriers

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Dixon, D. (2000), "Breaking Down the Language Barriers", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 137-146.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The subtitle “Machine translation – the technology that can no longer be denied” sets the tone of this slim volume intended for a wide audience in the business, scientific and academic communities. With such a wide remit, the book is written in a clear and lucid style that is readily understandable by those without a specialist technological background.

The book falls into two distinct parts: the first outlines the background and merits of Machine Translation (MT) and Machine Assisted Translation (MAT); the second is a practical toolkit for those wishing to implement MT or MAT on their own PCs using Word for Windows. A particular benefit is the facility to download a fully operational copy of Translator software from the Internet.

The introductory chapters contain a seductively persuasive argument in favour of the advantages of machine translation. The author is clearly totally committed to his subject and his enthusiastic arguments are attractive. He provides a brief and interesting discussion of the history of written communication and machine translation. In debunking the assertion that the English language is at the leading edge of international communication, he reminds us that English itself comes in many different guises and that increasingly business customers expect to be addressed in their own language.

The third chapter claims to outline 20 practical implications of the new technology although only 19 appear. Nonetheless, the points made are relevant as a checklist for managers contemplating adopting MT in their organisation. These include such issues as time savings, and saving money on the cost of human translators and supplementing MT by services such as the World Translations Index. In line with the practical approach taken throughout, addresses for accessing WTI online are provided.

It is a pity there is no index, as some of the historical material on the development of language is complemented by Haynes’ discussion of the information revolution in Chapter Four.

Where this work really scores is in its clear explanations of concepts such as hypertext, groupware, fuzzy logic and artificial intelligence which are readily comprehensible to those without computer backgrounds. Helpful advice is given on licensing, secrecy and security and presentation of the final product, ensuring that basics are not overlooked.

The final chapters are a toolkit designed to ensure that novices get the best out of their machines. The chapters on essential requirements for an MT system and on practical tips may state the obvious but they will avoid later problems and are clearly and sensibly laid out.

This book succeeds admirably in presenting practical advice in a clear and logical manner. Some sceptics might find some of the arguments in favour of machine translation a little too optimistic. Nonetheless, the book is an excellent introduction for those wishing to learn more about the capacity and potential of machine translation. For those considering implementation, it is a necessity.

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