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Google Converted Language Translation Into a Problem of Vector Space Mathematics

Google Converted Language Translation Into a Problem of Vector Space Mathematics | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
To translate one language into another, find the linear transformation that maps one to the other. Simple, say a team of Google engineers

 

Computer science is changing the nature of the translation of words and sentences from one language to another. Anybody who has tried BabelFish or Google Translate will know that they provide useful translation services but ones that are far from perfect.

 

The basic idea is to compare a corpus of words in one language with the same corpus of words translated into another. Words and phrases that share similar statistical properties are considered equivalent.

 

The problem, of course, is that the initial translations rely on dictionaries that have to be compiled by human experts and this takes significant time and effort.

 

Now Tomas Mikolov and a couple of pals at Google in Mountain View have developed a technique that automatically generates dictionaries and phrase tables that convert one language into another. The new technique does not rely on versions of the same document in different languages. Instead, it uses data mining techniques to model the structure of a single language and then compares this to the structure of another language.

 

“This method makes little assumption about the languages, so it can be used to extend and refine dictionaries and translation tables for any language pairs,” they say. The new approach is relatively straightforward. It relies on the notion that every language must describe a similar set of ideas, so the words that do this must also be similar. For example, most languages will have words for common animals such as cat, dog, cow and so on. And these words are probably used in the same way in sentences such as “a cat is an animal that is smaller than a dog.”

 

The same is true of numbers. The image above shows the vector representations of the numbers one to five in English and Spanish and demonstrates how similar they are. This is an important clue. The new trick is to represent an entire language using the relationship between its words. The set of all the relationships, the so-called “language space”, can be thought of as a set of vectors that each point from one word to another. And in recent years, linguists have discovered that it is possible to handle these vectors mathematically. For example, the operation ‘king’ – ‘man’ + ‘woman’ results in a vector that is similar to ‘queen’.

 

It turns out that different languages share many similarities in this vector space. That means the process of converting one language into another is equivalent to finding the transformation that converts one vector space into the other.

 

Having identified this mapping, it is then a simple matter to apply it to the bigger language spaces. Mikolov and co say it works remarkably well. “Despite its simplicity, our method is surprisingly effective: we can achieve almost 90% precision@5 for translation of words between English and Spanish,” they say.

 

The method can be used to extend and refine existing dictionaries, and even to spot mistakes in them. Indeed, the Google team do exactly that with an English-Czech dictionary, finding numerous mistakes. Finally, the team point out that since the technique makes few assumptions about the languages themselves, it can be used on argots that are entirely unrelated. So while Spanish and English have a common Indo-European history, Mikolov and co show that the new technique also works just as well for pairs of languages that are less closely related, such as English and Vietnamese.

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Computerized 'Rosetta Stone' reconstructs ancient proto-languages

Computerized 'Rosetta Stone' reconstructs ancient proto-languages | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
University of British Columbia and Berkeley researchers have used a sophisticated new computer system to quickly reconstruct protolanguages – the rudimentary ancient tongues from which modern languages evolved.

 

University of British Columbia and Berkeley researchers have used a sophisticated new computer system to quickly reconstruct protolanguages – the rudimentary ancient tongues from which modern languages evolved

 

The results, which are 85 per cent accurate when compared to the painstaking manual reconstructions performed by linguists, will be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

"We're hopeful our tool will revolutionize historical linguistics much the same way that statistical analysis and computer power revolutionized the study of evolutionary biology," says UBC Assistant Prof. of Statistics Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, lead author of the study. "And while our system won't replace the nuanced work of skilled linguists, it could prove valuable by enabling them to increase the number of modern languages they use as the basis for their reconstructions." Protolanguages are reconstructed by grouping words with common meanings from related modern languages, analyzing common features, and then applying sound-change rules and other criteria to derive the common parent. The new tool designed by Bouchard-Côté and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley analyzes sound changes at the level of basic phonetic units, and can operate at much greater scale than previous computerized tools. The researchers reconstructed a set of protolanguages from a database of more than 142,000 word forms from 637 Austronesian languages—spoken in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and parts of continental Asia.

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Visualising language similarities

Visualising language similarities | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Gerhard Jäger uses lexostatistics to demonstrate that language similarities can be computed without using tree-based representations (for why this might be important, see Kevin’s post on reconstructing linguistic phylogenies).


Via Sakis Koukouvis
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Language and tool-making skills evolved at same time

Language and tool-making skills evolved at same time | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Research by the University of Liverpool has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time.

 

Researchers from the University tested the brain activity of 10 expert stone tool makers (flint knappers) as they undertook a stone tool-making task and a standard language test.


They measured the brain blood flow activity of the participants as they performed both tasks using functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD), commonly used in clinical settings to test patients’ language functions after brain damage or before surgery.

 

The researchers found that brain patterns for both tasks correlated, suggesting that they both use the same area of the brain.  Language and stone tool-making are considered to be unique features of humankind that evolved over millions of years.

 

Darwin was the first to suggest  that tool-use and language may have co-evolved, because they both depend on complex planning and the coordination of actions but until now there has been little evidence to support this.

 

Dr Georg Meyer, from the University Department of Experimental Psychology, said:  “This is the first study of the brain to compare complex stone tool-making directly with language.

 

“Our study found correlated blood-flow patterns in the first 10 seconds of undertaking both tasks.  This suggests that both tasks depend on common brain areas and is consistent with theories that tool-use and language co-evolved and share common processing networks in the brain.”

 

Dr Natalie Uomini from the University’s Department of Archaeology, Classics & Egyptology, said: “Nobody has been able to measure brain activity in real time while making a stone tool. This is a first for both archaeology and psychology.”


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Study: Why Some Languages Sound So Fast?

Study: Why Some Languages Sound So Fast? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

It's an almost universal truth that any language you don't understand sounds like it's being spoken at 200 m.p.h. — a storm of alien syllables almost impossible to tease apart. That, we tell ourselves, is simply because the words make no sense to us. Surely our spoken English sounds just as fast to a native speaker of Urdu. And yet it's equally true that some languages seem to zip by faster than others. Spanish blows the doors off French; Japanese leaves German in the dust — or at least that's how they sound. A new research study has found answers to why that is.

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Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Does Your Language Shape How You Think? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The idea that your mother tongue shapes your experience of the world may be true after all. Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century.

 

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Sakis Koukouvis's comment, April 3, 2012 2:03 AM
Unfortunately I have to login to read the article