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Translation: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

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In the beginning was the Tower of Babel. The usual story says it was man’s attempt to compete with the gods. But what those Babylonians really did was build the largest silo of translations in the known world. Yes, they were trying to reach the clouds. But the tower was so tall and heavy with the weight of translations that it collapsed on top of them. The translators escaped, and spread out all over the world. in search of more effective tools. For example, translators need good memories. The more they work, the greater the stock of translations others can learn from. The Rosetta Stone dates back to the 2nd century. With its three versions of the same underlying text, it’s one of the finest examples of a parallel corpus or translation memory. Give translators parallel data, and they can move the world. But they need proper training data. In 9th century Bagdad, for example, Arabic was a new target language for a huge job of translating scientific and medical content from Greek and Syriak. Caliph Al-Mamūn built the House of Wisdom to train a translator base, establish terminology, and control translation quality. The right skills flourish best with proper infrastructure and good tools. After millennia of laborious copying, moveable print technology was introduced in the 15th century. It killed off Latin, and created the first multilingual publishing industry. 500 years before, block-printing had been used in Asia to print the Chinese translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka. In Europe, Luther’s German translation of the Bible was one of the first great print runs in history. But the explosion of knowledge through printed translation started worrying 17th century Europeans. So many languages, but where’s the truth? John Wilkins, Leibniz and others tried to develop a single logical language, a shared interlingua for scientific communication. But back in the real world, the translation workload kept growing... Dominant languages like Latin, Chinese, or English tend to crush minority tongues. Smaller language communities constantly fight back, and language wars are a fact of life. In the late 19th century Zamenhof invented Esperanto, a mash up auxiliary language for peace and progress. A noble dream, but languages are rooted in locale. Translators are always the spearhead of local responses to globalizing ambitions. But they need better tools. The electronic computer arrived in the 1950s, not just a number cruncher but a symbol processor. It promised software solutions to almost every translation automation problem. Translators could finally use machines to do the heavy lifting. We now live in a new world of instant global communications. Translation is a daily necessity, and we can use innovative information technology to leverage language data. But first we must share, build and experiment together. TAUS is here to help build a new Babel in the cloud, to ensure that business and society communicate better and solve the language problems that confront us all.

Video Details

Duration: 3 minutes and 22 seconds
Year: 2010
Country: Netherlands
Language: English
Producer: TAUS/TAUS Data Association
Views: 4,825
Posted by: translationautomation on Feb 8, 2010

Translation has always been about sharing. We take this to a new level by providing a way for everyone to benefit from our collective investments - previous translations - to improve translation automaton, to free translators from monotony, to help the world communicate better. Visit and for more information.

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