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What is Machine Translation (MT)?

When the first computers appeared at the end of the Second World War, there were great hopes of the potential benefits which the imagined powers of these ‘electronic brains’ might bring. One was the prospect of translating languages, to break down communication barriers and to further the cause of international peace.

Machine Translation is the process that utilizes computer software to translate text from one natural language into another. This definition accounts for the grammatical structure of each language and uses rules and assumptions to transfer the grammatical structure of the source language (text to be translated) into the target language (translated text).

There have been many different reasons for attempting it. The principal reason is a severely practical one: scientists, technologists, engineers, economists, agriculturalists, administrators, industrialists, businessmen, and many others have to read documents and have to communicate in languages they do not know; and there are just not enough translators to cope with the ever increasing volume of material which has to be translated.

At its basic level, MT performs simple substitution of atomic words in one natural language for words in another. Using corpus techniques, more complex translations may be attempted, allowing for better handling of differences in linguistic typology, phrase recognition, and translation of idioms, as well as the isolation of anomalies.

Machine Translation: past, present, future
(Ellis Horwood Series in Computers and their Applications) 382 pp.
Chichester (UK): Ellis Horwood, 1986. (ISBN: 0-85312-788-3)
New York: Halsted Press, 1986. (ISBN: 0-470-20313-7)

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