The Role of Linguistics in Improving Statistical Machine Translation as Scientific Field and as End-Result
Tommi A Pirinen
Dublin City University
In statistical machine translation (SMT), the main goal behind most of the re-
search work to date is to improve translation quality as measured by automatic
evaluation metrics (e.g. BLEU, METEOR, TER). These metrics are cheap as they
are fully automatic and they are useful in that they (are supposed to)
correlate with human translation evaluation when measured on large bodies of
professionally translated texts. That said, a mere race for tiny improvements
in these metrics (i.e. there is a common type of paper in the field that (i)
adds some novel functionality to the overall SMT pipeline and (ii) reports a
statistically significant improvement in terms of BLEU as evidence of its
usefulness, without additional human evaluation nor in-depth analysis) has
not been overly successful with all of the SMT language pairs.
This seems to be especially the case for some of the non Indo-European lan-
guages, e.g. Finnish or Turkish. An example of this is reflected in the
state-of-the-art of machine translation for the Finnish–English language pair,
which has not advanced in the past decade in terms of these metrics. These
metrics are based on simple string comparisons and substitutions, and
as it is argued in the papers published on this language pair that show little
to no improvement[1, 2, 3], these metrics may not be ideal for
morphologically complex languages like those of the Uralic or Turkic families.
For example, a simple compounding mistake
or a wrong allomorph for case suffix is severely penalised by BLEU (basically, a word
matches or does not match the reference) while the fluency and meaning in the
translation is mostly retained.
We believe that using metrics that include linguistically-motivated measures
(e.g. MEANT ) would be more appropriate, especially when translating into the morphologically
complex language. In addition, we propose to use metrics that combine
matching at word and sub-word levels. In this regard, taking the most
widely-used automatic metric, BLEU, we suggest to combine its original
implementation (i.e. word level) with its proposed implementation at morpheme
Apart from the issue of non-linguistic automatic evaluation metrics, we deem equally
crucial to analyse the output of the SMT system in sufficient detail to
explain the scores achieved by the system. From a meta-analysis of the
state-of-the-art in English–Finnish SMT that we have conducted, we identify two
parts of the process that would greatly benefit from introducing a linguistic
view, namely (i) the initial hypothesis when devising a new SMT system and
(ii) the final error analysis of the MT output. In fact, in most papers
(i) the experimental set-up is not motivated by any relevant linguistic means
and (ii) error analysis is not conducted at all, let alone in linguistic
detail. These, we argue, would be necessary to design future work aimed at improving
current results in terms of real translation quality.
 Ann Clifton and Anoop Sarkar. Combining morpheme-based machine translation
with post-processing morpheme prediction. In Proceedings of the 49th Annual
Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Tech-
nologies - Volume 1, HLT '11, pages 32--42, Stroudsburg, PA, USA, 2011. Associ-
ation for Computational Linguistics.
 Minh-Thang Luong, Preslav Nakov, and Min-Yen Kan. A hybrid morpheme-word
representation for machine translation of morphologically rich languages. In
Proceedings of the 2010 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language
Processing, EMNLP '10, pages 148--157, Stroudsburg, PA, USA, 2010.
Association for Computational Linguistics.
 Sami Virpioja, Jaakko J. Väyrynen, Mathias Creutz, and Markus Sadeniemi.
Morphology-aware statistical machine translation based on morphs induced in an
unsupervised manner. In Proceedings of the Machine Translation Summit XI, pages
491--498, Copenhagen, Denmark, September 2007.
 Chi-kiu Lo and Dekai Wu. Meant: An inexpensive, high-accuracy,
semi-automatic metric for evaluating translation utility via semantic frames.
In Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational
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for Computational Linguistics, 2011.