Automatic translation: talent or persistence? [Archives:2005/837/Reportage]

April 28 2005

When Abdulkhaliq Obad first told me about what he had been researching I thought to myself “why didn't I think of that?” I would like to think that many of you who read this would think that way too. It is not extraordinary as much as it is worth admiring. I guess the difference between Obad and most of us is his persistence and love for knowledge that had made him go the extra mile that many of us would not bother to take.

Coming from the countryside in Ba'dan, Governorate of Ibb where he was brought up and did his schooling, Obad came to Sana'a in 1996 and joined Jamal Abdul Nasir's school, graduating in the academic year 1997/98 with a score of 79 percent.

“I have always wanted to be a doctor, but my percentage would not allow me to join the medical college and for personal reasons I had to work in my family's carpentry stores in Sana'a for two years. When I joined the university I chose to study translation in the Faculty of Arts because I felt that translation is something like sculpture. Just like how I create shapes and restructure wood to make beautiful pieces and crafts I feel that I could do the same with words when I take them through the journey from one language to the other.” Obad explained.

Fascinating, isn't it? His desire to learn and create has gotten him through the difficulties he encountered in the first few semesters especially, but Obad devised a special way to learn and handle English, he says: “I found out that I can learn easily through observing the structure and spelling of the words and relating them to each other. Every time I came across a new word I relate it to one with a similar spelling and this is what made me think of my research topic.”

Obad was influenced by his teachers at the Faculty of Arts, English section as they used to encourage the students not to duplicate what has been said in class but to be more creative. In 2002 Obad was working on a research with his assistant Ahmed Ameen about analogy. Obad found out that words spelt similarly, even if partial, had similar meanings. For example revenge and avenge, announce and pronounce tc. and that most of these words are identical with each other in meaning, pronunciation, spelling, syntactic devices, morphological devices, prepositional particle, denotation and connotation. He discovered over 20,000 analogous words and their semantic relation through pronunciation and spelling. Through his research he discovered that this analogy is not only applicable to the English language but also to other languages worldwide.

1-Example from English

– Select =Elect [V]

– Selection =Election [N]

– Selectional=Electional [Adj]

– Selective =Elective [Adj]

– Selectable =Electable [Adj]

– Select sb to =Elect sb to

2-Example from Germany

– Halten =Behalten=Verhalten [V]

– Haltung =Behaltung =Verhaltung [N]

– Haltlische=Behaltlische =Verhallischet [Adj.]

As to what the benefit from this research is, he answered: “It helps people take more control of the language and the command of spelling becomes easier. I hope to develop this through doing my masters in USA where I intend to study translation. I want to invent a mechanism in which automatic translation could take place from any language to the other just by giving the system a few words and their meanings and without needing to know the language. This would require time, but I do believe it is achievable.