Phrase Translation

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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In general, most software translation programs are more adept at handling phrase translation than sentence or document translation. Phrases, by nature shorter than sentences, are usually much less complex as well, thereby less confusing to a machine's language processing algorithms. They are also easier to parse, or to break down into component parts (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.).

The exception is when a phrase contains of consists of an idiom--a linguistic idiosyncrasy that, as a general rule, is difficult for machine-assisted translation to handle. Idioms generally have more than one meaning, including the compositional meaning (the literal meaning of the component words of the idiom) and the idiomatic meaning, or what the figure of speech means in normal everyday use. Idioms are difficult to process in computerized phrase translation unless the program has access to idiom glossaries or is able to use context clues to see through the idiom.

Uses of Idiom Glossaries in Phrase Translation

Idiom glossaries are perhaps the most effective tool for handling idioms in most computerized translation programs that are available. Some programs give users access to numerous idiom glossaries for both conversational and professional texts for a variety of languages. Users can download the glossaries as needed to supplement the resource information that is already on their hard drive.

One of the most famously difficult idioms that is used in language processing and phrase translation is the English idiom "time flies like an arrow." To humans, the meaning is simple, but to computers that are attempting to translate the phrase word-by-word into a foreign language, there are at least three possible outcomes with three different meanings. Two are commands: to measure the speed of a fly as if you would an arrow, and to measure the speed of flies as an arrow would measure it. The third describes how a breed of fly, the time fly, prefers arrows. Idiom glossaries help translation programs treat the entire phrase as a unit, enabling the program to accurately produce a translation of the idiomatic meaning of the phrase.

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