Question: How does your system translate the Bible? Is it like Google Translate?
Answer: No, our system isn't anything like Google Translate. Google Translate uses large bilingual corpora and
statistical techniques to produce its translations. But the languages that still need the Bible don’t have large bilingual corpora,
they generally have very little literature of any kind, so a statistical approach isn’t possible for these languages.
Instead of a statistical approach, we’ve developed a linguistic approach that consists of two components: 1) semantic representations
of the biblical books and other Christian literature, and 2) a linguistically based natural language generator.
1) Developing Semantic Representations of the Bible and other Christian literature:
In order for our software to produce an accurate and easily understandable translation of a text, we must first thoroughly
analyze that text and capture its meaning using very simple words and simple sentence structures. Using our limited vocabulary and
small set of sentence structures, we rewrite each biblical book by consulting numerous English translations, commentaries, translation
helps, and the Greek and Hebrew texts. When the scholars are uncertain about the intended meaning of a passage (e.g., Luke 23:31), we include
alternates which capture the major opinions regarding the meaning. After insuring that all of the information in the original text is present in our new
version, we add very detailed linguistic information so that our software will have access to the information it needs as it translates
that text into a wide variety of languages. Every word, phrase, and clause is marked and thoroughly described by numerous features.
For example, every noun is marked for Number, and the possible values are Singular, Dual, Trial, Quadrial, Plural, and Paucal because
some languages morphologically distinguish each of those values. The result of this analysis is called a semantic representation, and it serves as the
source document that our software uses during the translation process. Building the semantic representation of a biblical book is a very
time consuming process, but we only have to do it once for each book. Then our software will be able to translate that book into a
very wide variety of languages.
2) A Linguistically Based Natural Language Generator
A natural language generator is a computer program that produces translations of texts using the lexicon and grammatical rules
of the target language. We’ve developed a natural language generator which enables linguists and missionaries to build computational lexicons
and grammars for their languages. Every language is governed by numerous grammatical rules. After a linguist determines the rules
for a particular language, he can enter those rules into our software, and then our software is able to executes those rules.
There are rules for adding prefixes, suffixes, infixes, circumfixes, etc. Other rules put all the constituents in their proper order.
There are rules to identify where pronouns should be used, and the surface forms of those pronouns. There are also collocation correction
rules which change one target word to another target word in specific environments. There are rules for handling the various
relativization strategies for relative clauses. So there are numerous types of rules in our grammar. Then our software applies that
information to our semantic representations of the Bible, and produces initial draft translations that are easily understandable,
grammatically perfect, and convey the same information as the original text. The computer’s draft must then be edited by mother-tongue
speakers in order to make it more natural and relevant to the target culture. The result is a complete Bible in a fraction of the time
required by manual translation.
Question: Is your system able to translate the entire Bible?
Answer: Our software is able to translate all of the books that we've built semantic representations for. At the present
time we don't yet have semantic representations for the entire Bible, so our software can't yet produce an entire Bible. We currently
have semantic representations for Genesis, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Nahum, Luke, and six Pauline epistles. We're currently developing
semantic representations for Joshua and several other Old Testament books. Our ultimate goal is to produce semantic representations for
the entire Bible, commentaries, Bible study materials, and classic Christian literature. Then our software will be able to quickly
translate all of those materials into a new language.
Question: How does your system handle poetry?
Answer: All translators strive to accurately translate the meaning of the source text rather than the form of the source text.
Poetry is a form, and it's virtually impossible for even human translators to produce a text in a target language that has the same rhyme
and rhythm as the original text.
Hebrew poetry generally uses patterns of stress and meaning rather than rhyme or rhythm.
Whether a translation is produced by a human or by our software, it most likely will not have the same pattern of stress as the original
text. While unfortunate, this problem occurs for all translations that make it a priority to preserve the meaning, including most English
translations produced by scholars.
Providentially, the dominant characteristic of Hebrew poetry is semantic. As Derek Kidner states in his commentary on the Psalms,
"this type of poetry loses less than perhaps any other in the process of translation" and "survives transplanting into almost any soil."
The semantic patterns, often called "parallelisms," match one thought with another thought. The second thought might echo the first
thought, or build to a stronger conclusion, or state an opposite proposition, or fill in details. TBTA translations will, in most cases,
be able to preserve these semantic patterns.
Another dominant feature of Hebrew poetry is metaphor, when we say that something "is" some other thing. We try to preserve
metaphor in our semantic representations unless the metaphor is specific to the Hebrew culture so that it is unlikely to be understood by
other cultures. In that case,
we might replace the metaphor with a simile, saying that something "is like" some other thing. Where we think that the metaphor might
or might not be understood, we include an alternate version so that the translator can make a choice for his or her specific language.
For instance, in Psalm 23:1, our translation with the metaphor is “Yahweh is my shepherd.” But we include an alternate representation
with a simile: “Yahweh is like a shepherd. He cares for me.”
Question: Why are you focusing on the Old Testament?
Answer: There are thousands of missionaries around the world working to manually translate the New Testament. If a missionary
is making good progress, or is close to being finished, he or she doesn't want computational help with the remaining New Testament books.
But we've found that nearly all of the translators warmly welcome computational help with the Old Testament. So for the near future,
we will focus on the Old Testament so that we can provide assistance to the missionaries who are already working on the New Testament.
After we have semantic representations for the entire Old Testament, we'll start building semantic representations for the New Testament,
commentaries, and other Christian literature.
Question: How long does it generally take a person to start producing translations using your system, and what skills are necessary?
Answer: We'll answer this question based on Tod Allman's experiences with English, Tagalog, and Ayta Mag-Indi, but please
keep in mind that there are many factors which can either increase or decrease the amount of time required for a particular language
In order to use our system, the first step is to become familiar with our software and semantic representational system.
A computational linguist can become familiar with our system in approximately 40 to 50 hours. We have videos and tutorials on our website
so that people can learn how to use our system. In order to build a grammar for a language, a person needs to have some experience
developing software. Building a grammar for a language is similar to developing a small software project. A grammar consists of a
sequence of rules, so in order to build a grammar, a person has to be able to think in terms of sequenced rules, just like we do when
developing software. After a person is familiar with our system, he'll be ready to start a language project.
When starting a new language project, we first work through a series of about 300 simple sentences that we call the
Grammar Introduction. These are very simple sentences that illustrate the various tenses, aspects, moods, illocutionary forces,
noun-noun relationships, pronouns, adjective and adverb degrees, noun proximity values, etc., that occur in our semantic
representational system. The Grammar Introduction concludes with a synopsis of the David and Goliath story so that we produce an
actual text. Tod worked through the Grammar Introduction in English in about 40 hours, but he knows the software thoroughly.
For people who don't know how to use the software well, it will take longer. If the person is a mother-tongue speaker of the language
he's working on, the work will certainly progress more quickly. When Tod was developing the lexicon and grammar for Tagalog, the
Grammar Introduction required approximately 30 two hour meetings with a mother-tongue speaker. After each meeting, Tod would typically
work for another two or three hours to implement all the rules they had discussed. So the total time for working through the Grammar
Introduction in a language you're not familiar with is about 150 hours.
After completing the Grammar Introduction, we generally work through a very short simple story about preventing eye
infections. This story is simpler than the texts in the Bible, so it's beneficial to work through this story before starting a
biblical text. For Tagalog this story required approximately 10 two hour meetings, and again Tod worked for another couple of hours
after each meeting. So the total time to work through this story in a language you're not familiar with is about 50 hours.
For Ayta Mag-Indi, Tod didn't need to work through the Grammar Introduction because the language is structurally very similar to Tagalog.
For the story about eye infections, Tod needed 7 two hour meetings with the missionary working in the language, and he worked for a
couple hours after each meeting to implement the rules. So the total time for that project was about 30 hours.
After completing the story about preventing eye infections, you're ready to begin working in a biblical book. We generally
start with Ruth because it's a short, simple historical narrative. For Tagalog we needed approximately 50 two hour meetings to produce
a draft of Ruth. And again Tod worked for several hours after each meeting, so the total time involved was about 200 hours.
By the time you've finished Ruth, the translation process is definitely accelerating. While working in the Grammar Introduction,
each sentence requires several hours because you have to build so many rules. But when you're finished with Ruth, the grammar is pretty
thorough, and you can generally work through several verses in a two hour meeting. As you work through additional texts such as Luke,
Esther, Daniel, Genesis, etc., the pace of the translation work definitely accelerates because the lexicon and grammar are well developed.
At that point you'll be able to work through several chapters during a typical two hour meeting. If we had semantic representations for
the entire Bible, then eventually you could click a button, and the computer would work for a couple of days, and you'd have an initial
draft translation of the entire Bible. Mother-tongue speakers could then edit that draft into a publishable text in a fraction of the
time required for manual translation.
Question: I'd like to receive your newsletters. How can I sign up?
If you'd like to receive our bi-monthly news and prayer letters, please send an email to "info" at "TheBibleTranslatorsAssistant.org"
with "TBTA newsletter" in the subject line. We'll be glad to send you our newsletters.
Question: I'd like to become involved in your ministry. Can I talk to someone about the possibilities?
If you'd like to become involved in this ministry, we'd be glad to hear from you. Please send an email to
"info" at "TheBibleTranslatorsAssistant.org" and describe your interests. We're always looking for Bible translators, Bible exegetes,
software developers, computational linguists, and people with other skills that can contribute to this ministry. So please send
us an email describing how you'd like to be involved.
For general information, please contact:
Email: Tod.Allman at TheBibleTranslatorsAssistant.org
For financial inquiries, please contact:
Email: Richard.Denton at TheBibleTranslatorsAssistant.org