Effects of Machine Translation on Collaborative Work

November 17, 2006

Noami Yamashita and Toru Ishida (Kyoto) Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2006). [pdf]
Abstract: Even though multilingual communities that use machine translation to overcome language barriers are increasing, we still lack a complete understanding of how machine translation affects communication. In this study, eight pairs from three different language communities–China, Korea, and Japan–worked on referential tasks in their shared second language (English) and in their native languages using a machine translation embedded chat system. Drawing upon prior research, we predicted differences in conversational efficiency and content, and in the shortening of referring expressions over trials. Quantitative results combined with interview data show that lexical entrainment was disrupted in machine translation-mediated communication because echoing is disrupted by asymmetries in machine translations. In addition, the process of shortening referring expressions is also disrupted because the translations do not translate the same terms consistently throughout the conversation. To support natural referring behavior in machine translation-mediated communication, we need to resolve asymmetries and inconsistencies caused by machine translations.

Task for experiments: order figures through a chat interface, via a third language (English) and with own lanuage+ MT.
The process of agreeing on a perspective on a referent is known as lexical entrainment [4, 11].

Although machine translation liberates members from language barriers, it also poses hurdles for establishing mutual understanding. As one might expect, translation errors are the main source of inaccuracies that complicate mutual understanding [25]. Climent found that typographical errors are also a big source of translation errors that hinder mutual understanding [7]. Yamashita discovered that members tend to misunderstand translated messages and proposed a method to automatically detect misunderstandings [30].

In machine translation-mediated communication, shortened referring expressions are not necessarily translated correctly; even when referring expressions overlap considerably, machine translation may generate something totally different based on very small changes. Because abbreviation is problematic for machine translation, we expect that participants will identify a figure using identical referring expressions throughout the conversation.

… translations between two different languages are not transitive: translation from language A to B and back to A does not yield the original expression. The intransitive nature of machine translations results from its development process; translation from language A to B is built independently of translation from language B to A. In such conversations, the addressee cannot echo the speaker’s expression as a way of accepting it, illustrating that they are referring to the same thing.

We also found that in their second trial, speakers using machine translation preferred to narrow expressions rather than simplify them. …We infer that “narrowing” is observed more frequently in machine translation-mediated communication because distinctive terms such as “kimono” have few alternatives in translation, and thus, participants feel safe using them to match the figures.

Moreover, participants avoided focusing on the incomprehensible part of messages to discover what was wrong. Since translations are not transitive, it appears that they cannot efficiently solve the problem. Speakers have little choice but to offer more information and proceed with the task.

Consistent with quantitative results, speakers tended to describe the figures more frequently in machine translation than in English.

It seems that participants can minimize mutual effort in collaboration by offering more and more information until their partner confirms understanding.

Since such an unwieldy conversational style would not be useful in general conversation, there is a need to support natural referential behavior in machine translation-mediated communication. For example, support that creates correspondences among references (or keywords) between the two languages may help. Also, support that creates correspondences among referring expressions before and after shortening may help.


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