A couple of years back, I posted some thoughts about learning Braille on the Wordwizard Clubhouse. I have resurrected them here and updated the post a little.
Please note that some browsers may not display the Braille symbols properly.
Well, I have managed it! An exciting, bewildering, bizarre, although as yet incomplete journey.
After just under 7 weeks, I have just completed the final book of my Braille course! I can now read again, albeit extremely laboriously. But what an odd experience it has been.
In this post, I shall just touch on some of the peculiarities that I have encountered, particularly from the perspective of a linguist. In another post on the main board, I shall be going into a little more detail about some of the pitfalls and problems I have had for the benefit of anyone who may be thinking of learning Braille themselves. This one is strictly for the language geeks.
Machine translation has been the Holy Grail of computational linguistics since the early days of computer science. Like the Holy Grail, it has remained elusive. It is the contention of this article that the primary reason for the failure of commercial and experimental machine translation systems to consistently deliver usable (let alone good) results lies in a number of misconceptions, not only in respect of the translation process, but also in respect of the nature of language itself. The staggering variety of syntactic manifestations across languages has driven researchers to hunt for language universals to provide a framework to which utterances in any language can be reduced, and hence reformulated in a different language. With a few notable exceptions, such language universals are held to be classes or categories to which “words” can be assigned and which interact with each other in defined ways. Translations should then be a relatively simple matter of substituting the appropriate words and applying the specific syntax of the target language.
This article attempts to use some simple examples from the day-to-day experience of a well-versed translator to illustrate some of the fallacies that underpin such approaches. If language universals exist, they almost certainly do not exist in the forms in which they are sought. Continue reading →