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machine translation


September 13, 1999: This message was distributed by Papyrus News, a free e-mail distribution list on the global impact of information technology on language, literacy, and education. Feel free to forward this message to others, but please include this introductory paragraph. For information on subscribing or unsubscribing to Papyrus News see


Another unpredictable area of online communication -- or indeed, telephone or even face-to-face communication -- involves machine translation, a phenomenon which some believe can eventual challenge the predominance of English as a global language. I expect machine translation to develop considerably in the 21st century, but I'm skeptical whether it will replace people's need or want to communicate directly in a lingua franca.

Anyway, here's an announcement about a new translation system by C-STAR, followed by an announcement of a new discussion list on machine translation. This first announcement is reprinted with permission from "Agora Newsletter", a monthly e-mail publication put out for free by the "Agora Language Marketplace". To subscribe, see or contact <>.


LANGUAGE NEWS: C-STAR's New Face-Translation Technology

On July 22, 1999, a technologist at Carnegie Mellon University participated in a video conference which spanned six countries, at which he communicated in English. His speech was translated within several seconds into Japanese, so that his Japanese counterparts could then help him plan a hypothetical trip to Japan. The Japanese responded in their own native language and their conversation was heard in English by the technologist in the United States.

This presentation of speech synthesizer technology was the culmination of over a decade of work by The Consortium for Speech Translation Advanced Research organization, C-STAR,

The organization also tested "face-translation technology," where speakers' eyes and lips were made to look as though they were speaking the target language, using computer animation. New lips and eyes were morphed on a static photograph. As Dr. Alex Waibel, acting chairman of C-STAR admits, "Some of it still looks goofy, but that is a detail we can smooth out" (_New York Times_, 7/29/99).

In 1991, the organization had demonstrated that speech translation was possible, but users were forced to stay within a limited vocabulary and needed to use perfect syntax and speaking style. The new technology is faster, more accurate and has the ability to translate over 10,000 words. It filters out the 'ums' and 'urs' of everyday language (Buffalo News, Associated Press, 8/3/99). By restricting the translation to a single topic or domain, researchers are starting to create systems that can be used in the real world (_Christian Science Monitor_, 7/22/99). In order to create a better translation, the visual clues are used to help the listener clarify what has been said. These cues are currently shown over a low bandwith.

At this time the technology is limited to travel arrangements in which a wearable gadget is used by tourists. C-STAR hopes that someday they will have a commercial product: a hand-held computer that will provide geographical directions and translate words for the user.

C-STAR and language teachers would agree that its technology cannot substitute for learning another language. The technology, however, seems to be based on more of what language learners and teachers agree is important -- language is not just translating words but also seeing the facial and bodily expressions that fill out a communication.

(submitted by Kara Schwartz)

Here's an announcement of a new Machine Translation mailiing list (sent in by Jeff Allen) for those interested in pursuing discussion of this topic:

Date: Thu, 9 Sep 1999 13:11:57 +0200 (MET DST)

From: Colin Brace <<>

Subject: [E-announce] mailing list over MT


The EAMT now has a mailing list dedicated to MT. This list is open to the public and serves as a forum for the discussion and exchange of information for all aspects of translation technology.

This mailing list has just been established and as of yet there is no traffic.

We kindly request commercial organizations not to use the list for marketing purposes. We would prefer that vendors not post the full ext of product announcements and such, but rather provide simply an RL for further reference.

To subscribe, please send a message to the following address:

containing the following text:

subscribe mt-list [your email address]


To post a message to the list, send it to:


For more information about the MT-List, please contact the EAMT



For more information the EAMT, please see our Web site: < >

Please forward this message to others. Thank you.

Colin Brace <<>

Amsterdam </x-rich>

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Last updated: October 17, 1999