[b-hebrew] Machine translation of the Bible, was: heno- v's poly- theismin the torah

Read, James C K0434995 at kingston.ac.uk
Fri Jul 29 14:42:42 EDT 2005

The major reason for their failings is the presupposition that our 
division and definition of words is correct. Current translating 
programs are largely literally based and for this reason they produce 
such poor translations.

I agree that the project is complex but I have full faith in its possibility.
The very fact that children can learn a language without having to depend on 
translations shows that the algorithms exist and the program will just as much 
a pyscholgical one as a linguistic one.

The secret is in finding the algorithms which I believe lie more the minds of 
children than in the prowess of 'scholars'.

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Kirk [mailto:peterkirk at qaya.org]
Sent: Fri 7/29/2005 5:54 PM
To: Read, James C
Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Machine translation of the Bible, was: [b-hebrew] heno- v's poly- theismin the torah
On 29/07/2005 16:39, Read, James C wrote:

>In fact, I firmly believe that grammar is more of a hindrance 
>than a help to learning a language and I intend to demonstrate 
>this with my AI project.
>The purpose of my project is to develop algorithms which analyse 
>any input of language. The alphabet it will use will be based 
>on phonemes and not the inadequate arrays of alphabets that 
>modern languages use.
>The algorithms will completely avoid grammar and rely entirely 
>on examples and contexts to learn the meanings of words (a word 
>is a series of sounds/phonemes and may not necessarily agree with 
>the classical division of words we are accustomed to).
>It is my aim that this tool will produce a translation of the 
>hebrew bible, which is completely devoid of doctrinal influences, 
>as a demonstration that the natural way of learning languages 
>is the superior one. It's a big project and the algorithms have 
>many challenges but I am benefitting from the thoughts posted 
>in the various threads.
James, I wish your project well, but I am not very hopeful for you.

After all, researchers have been working on machine translation between 
major world languages for many decades, and the best results that they 
can come up with are appalling. For example, a few years ago I used 
Babelfish to translate Psalm 23:1 from English to Chinese to English and 
from German to English, and in both cases got the result "The Lord is 
not my shepherd"! (The "not" was wrongly transferred from the second 
clause.) And even when used on actual web pages the results were 
frequently incomprehensible.

To come up with a useable Bible translation from Hebrew you will have to 
do very much better than such programs can do even from German. And yet 
the only way you can do this in a way which "is completely devoid of 
doctrinal influences" (a laudable aim, although I don't think an 
achievable one) is to avoid "teaching" the program with ANY 
human-generated translations of Bible passages. But then, as I 
understand it (although I am not at all an expert), the only way that 
the current generation of machine translators can make any real progress 
is by matching to patterns found in real examples of human-generated 
translation. So you will need to find a new approach here.

Sorry to be discouraging. I fear that your aim is unattainable. But I 
hope that it is not.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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