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当英语遇上机器翻译

2014-06-20    来源:译言网    【      美国外教 在线口语培训

[LAST week’s column](http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2014/06/computer- aided-translation) looked at how machine translation (MT) has—and has not—improved. Free services like Bing and Google Translate can give quick-and- dirty, mostly-correct translations for tourists and the curious most of the time. For professional uses, machine-translated material must be post-edited for both accuracy and style. With restricted subject matter, MT systems can be trained to choose the best translations for words with multiple meanings. This is why (for example) the European Commission uses MT extensively. The legalistic language of the European Union may be impenetrable to outsiders, but the narrow range of bureaucratic language makes translating it much easier.
上周专栏讨论了机器翻译的进步和停滞。必应和谷歌提供的免费机器翻译服务可以给游客或者单纯好奇的人们提供临时应急翻译,意思也差不离。但如果用于专业用途,那么机器翻译的文本需要经过修改,提升准确度和修正文体后才可使用。在限制主题的情况下,机器翻译系统在接受训练后可学会在遇到多含义词语时选择最适合词义——这也是欧洲委员会之所以大范围地使用机器翻译的原因。欧盟所用的法律语言在外行人看来也许难以理解,但因其使用的官话来去都是那一套,翻译起来其实容易多了。

All this is getting better as computers get faster, storage cheaper and software smarter. But MT has improved only gradually, not in the revolutionary leaps and bounds seen in other fields. It is an example of the truism that machines find it easy to do things humans find hard (vast maths problems), and yet find it hard to do things humans find easy (language, natural movement). (Some experts have already begun pouring [cold water](http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/06/failing-the- turing-test.html) over last weekend's reports that a machine has finally passed the artificial-intelligence "Turing Test", for example.)
随着计算机运算速度加快、存储介质价格降低、软件智能程度不断升高,机器翻译境况每日愈上。但机器翻译的改善是逐步的,与其他领域的革命性飞跃发展大不一样。正如众所周知的一样,计算机可轻松完成对于人类而言难以完成的工作(如大量的数学计算),但对于人类而言可以轻松完成的事情(如语言、基本动作)计算机却难以完成。(上周才有报道称机器人终于通过人工智能测试—”图灵测试(Turing Test)”,有的专家就已经开始泼冷水了)。

No one knows how MT will look in 25 years. But that doesn’t stop us from guessing. At the TAUS conference on MT in Dublin last week, Johnson was invited to debate with Nicholas Ostler on the lingua franca of the future. Mr Ostler is a historian of the long sweep of languages’ lives. His most recent book, “The Last Lingua Franca” (reviewed here), laid out the arguments he presented in Dublin. English is actually shrinking, in percentage terms, as a mother tongue. (Other languages’ speakers are having more babies.) And foreign languages associated with dominating groups (first colonial Britain and then hyperpower America, in this case) can stir resentment, so it is not guaranteed that people in the future will always want to learn English.
没有人能预知25年后的机器翻译境况如何,但不妨猜测一番。上周, 翻译自动化用户协会(TAUS)在都柏林召开关于机器翻译的会议,约翰逊(Johnson)受邀与尼古拉斯·奥斯勒(Nicolas Ostler)就“未来的通用语”为主题展开辩论。奥斯勒先生在语言方面是资深专家,在他的最新著作《最后的通用语》(The Last Lingua Franca)中亦有提及他在都柏林大会上所用的论点。以百分比计算,以英语为母语的人群比例下降(因其它语言为母语的人群人口增长更快),而且,与专横集团如以前统治多个殖民地的大英帝国和现在超级大国美国有所联系的外语比较容易引起愤懑,所以不能保证在将来,人们还依然愿意学英语。

Meanwhile, Mr Ostler has high hopes for MT. All of that increased computing power should mean that, for the vast majority of the world’s people, the quick-and-dirty translations available from the likes of Google can only get better. In the long run, MT will be a better option for most people than slaving over learning English for years. Most people, after all, spend most of their lives working and living in their native language.
同时,奥斯勒对机器翻译寄予厚望,他认为,计算机技术的进步表明,对世界上绝大部分人们而言,诸如谷歌一类的机器翻译服务提供商所产出的粗糙译文质量定会提升。长期看来,比起苦学英语多年,机器翻译会是人们更加青睐的选择,毕竟绝大多数人几乎一生都在母语环境中工作和生活。

Johnson presented the case for English (a predictive case, not a hoped-for one): English has a reach and penetration unlike any language in history. It is now spoken by twice as many non-natives as natives, increasingly shedding its association with America and Britain. (When a Swede negotiates with a Brazilian taxi driver, or a Hungarian attends a conference in Poland, they are not thinking of American foreign policy when they pragmatically use English.) Schools are introducing English at earlier and earlier levels: Denmark is beginning English in first grade, and Zurich has chosen to teach pupils English before French, the second-biggest language of Switzerland. As much as it may chagrin French-speakers, such decisions are entirely practical and can be expected in ever greater numbers.
约翰逊则以英语的立场予以辩证(当然是预言性的,而非理想状态下的):英语的覆盖范围之广、渗透度之深是史无前例的。如今,英语的非母语使用者是其母语使用者的两倍之多,英语与美国及英国的联系日渐疏松(当一名瑞典人用英语与一名巴西出租车司机讨价还价、或是一名匈牙利人在波兰用英语参加会议时,他们都不过是在务实地使用这门语言,脑袋里可没空计较美国的外交政策)。学校也将开设英语课的时间不断提前:丹麦一年级开设英语课;在苏黎世的小学里,即使法语在瑞士是第二大语言,英语课还是在法语课之前开设。说法语的人也许恼怒,但这样的决定是完全合乎实际的,而且在将来,更可能涌现更多这样的情形。

The effect of this, Johnson predicts, is that the lock-in English now enjoys will only get stronger. Crucially, English will begin to be taken for granted. Every child will one day get it in school (as every child in China now does). They will hear so much English in early years that acquisition of a decent fluency will be easier and easier. Technology isn’t only helping machine translation. It is giving children around the world television, music and movies in English. Ambitious families will ensure that their kids see as much as possible, as early as possible, so they speak English not just competently, but fluently and comfortably. And those kids will increasingly choose English themselves. It opens up social networks; there’s a lot more on Twitter if you speak English. English even opens up games: youngsters round the world learn English to chat while they play online games like Minecraft and Worlds of Warcraft. This early and frequent exposure to English will mean the effort to learn, which Mr Ostler describes, begins to seem a lot less wearisome. It is simply part of the environment, something that billions of children will know a decent bit of before they even begin their first class. And as they progress up the grades, incentives will kick in, as pupils hear again and again how many doors English will unlock for them. Add to that an ever-strenghtening network effect: the more people who speak English, the more useful it is to speak English. It is hard to see what will stop this momentum in the next few decades.
约翰逊预言,如此情形带来的影响是,英语目前所占据的领域会不断扩大,重要的是,人们会认为用英语当做理所当然的。每个孩子都会上学(像在中国一样),在很小的年纪就开始浸泡在英语的环境里,要说一口流利的英语变得越发容易。科技不仅为机器翻译助力,更给全世界人们带来了英语剧集、音乐和电影。有预见的家长会保证孩子能轻易接触到尽量多的英语,以保证孩子们不但会说英语,而且能流利地说、轻松地说。如此环境中长大的孩子们,也会更加乐意选用英语。英语扩展了我们的社交网络,例如,推特上的英文内容可要比其他语言多得多;英语还给我们带来一个更宽广的游戏世界,世界各地的孩子们可以在玩《我的世界》(Minecraft)或《魔兽世界》(World of War Craft)之类的网络游戏时用英语交流。提前地和频繁地暴露在英语环境中也是促进学习的一种方式,奥斯勒认为,如此一来,学习英语便远远没有那么枯燥乏味。因为英语已经变成了大环境的一部分,大多数孩子在学龄之前就已经学会了点像样的英语。随着上学时间的增长,孩子们会了解到使用英语可以打开更多机会的大门,这又会变作一种激励促进孩子们的学习。如此一来,“说英语的人越多,说英语的用处就越大”的网络效应也会不断得到加强。而在未来几十年内,几乎没有任何力量可以阻止这一势头。

In the course of Johnson's discussion with Mr Ostler, we agreed on many things, and found a certain synthesis. English is still a language of elites, those well educated or in the kind of well-paid globalised professions that required it. Machine translation has come a long way in the past decade. For many people who are born, live and die without ever leaving their home regions, MT will be good enough for the few times in their lives they need to interact with foreigners. Speech recognition has got a lot better, making slow and carefully enunciated speech decently (if not brilliantly) translatable.
在约翰逊与奥斯勒的讨论中,我们达成了不少共识、形成了一个综合观点。英语仍是高等知识分子和从事需使用英语的全球化职业的高收入者所使用的语言。过去的十年中,机器翻译的发展取得很大进步,对于那些一辈子生活在家乡的人而言,机器翻译大可满足他们一生中少数几次与外国人交流的需求。语音识别准确率大大提升,对于缓慢及认真发音的语句已可生成若非绝妙、至少合宜的译文。

Johnson’s closing, though, was this: MT is improving with written texts, but it has a very long way to go in interpreting speech. As English gains ground, neither speech recognition nor MT will come far enough to replace the loud, unstructured conversations businesspeople have as they hash out deals in a noisy hotel bar. Who is so confident in MT that they would rely on it for a job interview? What about a first date? And, if successful, the subsequent marriage? No one can say when MT will be reilable for interpreting the quick, context-dependent and unstructured mess that is live human speech. A generation, at least—a generation in which English’s incredible penetration around the world will only deepen.
约翰逊的收尾论点如下:机器翻译在笔译上有所长进,但要做到口译演说还有很长的路要走。随着英语使用不断深入,语音识别或是机器翻译都无法发展到足以取代在吵闹的酒吧里进行的洪亮且结构松散的商业谈判、充分讨论交易。谁会有足够的信心来依靠机器翻译进行面试呢?又或者进行第一次约会?如果约会成功,又靠之来步入婚姻?没人敢预测什么时候机器翻译能发展到可用来翻译快速的、上下文相关的、结构松散的现场发言的地步。而至少在下一代的时间里,英语在世界范围内的渗透程度只会不断加深。

Johnson must confess: he narrowly lost the audience vote. Of course, there need be no single winner: both MT and English clearly have a future. But contests and debates are nonetheless illuminating, not to mention fun. So share your predictions in the comments.
约翰逊不得不承认:在观众投票上,他略败了。当然,在这件事上并不需要辩出一个赢家来:机器翻译和英语都拥有未来,但竞赛和辩论不但极具启发性、更妙趣横生。所以,在评论里留下你的预测吧。



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