Jul 16, 2014

Speech Recognition for 3P Translator Enhancement Presenter Christopher Blakeslee

by Patrick Oblander

Nuance’s Dragon is a long-established brand of speech recognition software. As their web site says, it “turns your talk into text.” This means that if you’re tired of typing your translations, you can dictate them. I wanted to attend either this presentation or the one by Nuance representatives that followed. The time slot for Christopher’s presentation just happened to work out better.

I had tried using Nuance’s Dragon product in the past and really saw its potential. It allowed me to dictate right into Word, Déjà vu, Trados, email programs, and more. However, the output during my earlier experiments required just too much cleanup of misrecognized words (on the plus side, some of those misrecognitions were pretty funny). Since then, I’ve enjoyed occasionally using Siri on my iPod. The voice recognition function within Siri is excellent, and works nearly flawlessly even in noisy environments. Christopher suggested that Siri is built on Nuance’s voice recognition technology, and he looked to the Nuance representatives in the audience for confirmation. They only commented that they were not at liberty to answer that. Taking that as a yes, I decided that I wanted the same capability in my PC and that Nuance’s product is worth trying again. One important caveat: it’s really important to have a proper microphone. However, even the home version of Dragon comes with one.

On Third Thought: The Value of Careful Editing in Japanese-into-English Translation, by Dr. Rick Weisburd
Rick started by emphasizing that he is not a translator. This is important, as the editor should be able to do his/her job without referring to the source language text.

The purpose of the session was to give us some ideas for better sentence structure. Sentence structure, Rick claimed, determines 85% of what is conveyed. But there are no absolute rules for good sentence structure, because so much is based on context. 
Still, even without absolute rules, Rick had a series of suggestions.
One suggestion: the “thing” whose story is being told (i.e., the subject of the sentence) gets extra emphasis when it appears in the front. Also, the verb of the subject should appear right after the subject, or as close as possible. Otherwise, it can be hard to keep the main idea of the sentence together in our minds. 
On the other hand, sometimes we can emphasize an idea by putting it at the back of a sentence, and/or by making it the main clause of the sentence. Compare these two sentences:
  1. 1. Although Joe’s a nice guy, he kicks his dog.
  2. 2. Although Joe kicks his dog, he’s a nice guy.
Sentence 2 makes Joe seem a little more likeable, for two reasons. First, “he’s a nice guy” is the main clause because it is not modified by the qualifier “although.” Second, the sentence ends on the idea “he’s a nice guy.” So that is the impression that sticks in our mind as we leave the sentence and move on to the next. Rick also suggested considering the “stress points” of every sentence. A stress point is an idea that should be stressed, which we can do by making it the subject of a clause or the entire sentence. Each stress point requires a stress position. Stress positions occur naturally at the beginning of sentences, so one approach is to break a long sentence with many stress points into several shorter sentences. However, there are ways to add stress positions within sentences—examples include parenthetical phrases, colons, semicolons, and em dashes. Colons and semicolons, in particular, are useful tools for tying phrases together while allowing each to emphasize its own stress point, as in this example provided by Rick: 
Japan became increasingly dependent on overseas sources for food; its food self-sufficiency ratio has declined to 40%.

In this sentence, there are two stress points: “Japan became…dependent” and “its food self-sufficiency ratio has declined.” The sentence respects the importance of each by giving each a stress position. The em dash (–) would also have served the same purpose in place of the semicolon.

One last thing I would like to mention is that Rick had the unenviable job of filling the last workshop time slot on the last day of IJET. The fact that he drew a big crowd (more than 100 people) and kept the audience engaged the whole time is a testament to his presentation skills. I enjoyed it very much.

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