ELL: On software for Basque and other lgs ("support")

Trond Trosterud Trond.Trosterud at hum.uit.no
Wed Jul 14 14:36:34 UTC 1999

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Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 16:36:34 +0200
To: endangered-languages-l at carmen.murdoch.edu.au
From: Trond Trosterud <Trond.Trosterud at hum.uit.no>
Subject: Re: ELL: On software for Basque and other lgs ("support")
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>Does anyone know how much work it would take to make an auto translator
>that could
>take an Akha text and make it into english or english into Akha?
>Matthew McDaniel

Very, very much work.

An auto translator is in any case one of the last outcomes of a long range
of products of such a work, all of which are important to akha (and
conversley for other lgs) as well. You need:

A good grammar of akha, or, conversely, a good understanding of what is
going on in akha.

A large, large corpus of akha texts

Good dictionaries in both directions, and terminological work to give good
matches for terms in both lgs.

The corpora and dictionaries must also be available electronically, and in
formats appropriate for further software

Then you need morphological an syntactic parsers for Akha (and for English,
but they are available). The morphology part will probably not be too hard
(see below), but it must be done. As for syntax I do not know, it depends
upon whether the major functional categories are uniquely identified or
whether you have ambigous constructions depending upon context for parsing.

As a next step, I would look for existing translation programs between
English and lgs typologically similar to akha, and take as much advice as
possible from them.

A good guess would be the genetically related Burmese, with some 21 mill
speakers and a country to back it up; it probably has some more resources
than you do. Another inspiration source is Japanese, not related, but with
a similar grammar. The writing systems are different, of course, but this
is a minor problem as compared to a task as complex as auto translation.

At least Burmese is SOV with no grammatical agreement, and postpositions to
mark grammatical relations (much like Japanese, thus), so there you are. If
Akha is similar, the grammatical structure seems quite straightforward. The
only obstacle is that the Burmese word order in my reference grammar was
described as "free" (except for the verb-finalness), this "freedom" is
quite probable governed by complicated context-sensitive rules that an auto
translator may have difficulties in mimicking. A possible product may thus
give monotonic phrases as a result.

What you need now is a couple of computational linguists who are curious
about akha and willing to try something out, and/or a commersial
translation software company that may be interested in extending its
coverage to akha as well, provided someone does the basic work for them
(assuming that the commersial marked is small).

But do not forget the ground work!! You need large, good dictionaries to
cover even the simplest texts (this letter, for instance).


Trond Trosterud                                     t +47 7764 4763
Finsk institutt, Det humanistiske fakultet          h +47 7767 3639
N-9037 Universitetet i Troms. Noreg                f +47 7764 4239
Trond.Trosterud at hum.uit.no  http://www2.isl.uit.no/trond/index.html
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