In our last post, The US and MT, we looked at the Georgetown-IBM experiment in 1954. In this post, we are going to turn our attention to France, and the work of one of the major figures in the history of Machine Translation-Bernard Vauquois.
Vauquois was one of the world’s leading Machine Translation researchers from 1960 until his death in 1985. Vauquois’s original interest was in mathematics and astronomy. However, in 1960 he went to Grenoble to set up a curriculum in computer science and formal languages, and a Machine Translation research lab. Vauquois had developed a keen interest in computer science while it was becoming increasingly popular in 1950s France.
Around the time that he became Professor of Computer Science at Grenoble, Vauquois took leadership of CETA (Centre d’ Étude pour la Traduction Automatique) and began working on ways to improve problems with the “first-generation” approach to Machine Translation.
In a dedication to Vauquois, Christian Boitet says that Vauquois, “assessed the potential of the new, grammar-based methods of formal language theory, and proposed a new approach, based on “pivot” representation, and on the use of (declarative) rule systems to transform a sentence sequentially from one level of representation to another”. This was after Vauquois’s predecessor at CETA, M. Sestier, believed that the problems facing Machine Translation were too central to overcome. Under Vauquois’s stewardship, CETA built the first large second-generation Machine Translation system of the sixties.
Rather than using the traditional declarative and interlingual approach to building and deploying Machine Translation systems, Boitet says that Vauquois, “used heuristic programming techniques, implemented as procedural grammars written in SLLPs (Specialised Languages for Linguistic Programming)” to produce a programming environment for “building and using Machine Translation Systems”.
In 1969, Vauquois became chairman of the ICCL (International Committee on Computation Linguistics) and his position as a leading figure in the field was concretised in the seventies, when Vauquois pioneered “multilevel structural descriptors”; multilevel structural descriptors were to be applied to translation units longer than sentences such as paragraphs and pages. This idea was a bed rock for the French National Machine Translation project which started in the 1980s and GETA (Groupe d’ Étude pour la Traduction Automatique), the successor to CETA. Vauquois was also an initiator of EUROTRA, which was a project funded by the European Commission from 1978 to 1992. The aim of EUROTRA was to produce a high-spec Machine Translation system for the then-member languages of the European Community.
Vauquois’s next major addition to the field of Machine Translation was the “static grammar” model. This, as Vauquois himself says, involves “defining the mapping between the strings of words of a language and their structural organisation, given that with transducers there are many ways of obtaining the same result using different strategies”.
“Static Grammar” was also Vauquois’s final addition. In his 25 year career working in computer linguistics, he became a global figure who collaborated with countries such as USA, Russia, and China. The sub-title to Boitet’s dedication sums up Vauquois’s contribution to Machine Translation in this quarter century-“Pioneer of Machine Translation”.
Click here to read Christian Boitet’s full dedication to Bernard Vauquois.