A Critique of Statistical Machine Translation

Andy Way


Phrase-Based Statistical Machine Translation (PB-SMT) is clearly the leading paradigm in the field today. Nevertheless—and this may come as some surprise to the PB-SMT community—most translators and, somewhat more surprisingly perhaps, many experienced MT protagonists find the basic model extremely difficult to understand. The main aim of this paper, therefore, is to discuss why this might be the case. Our basic thesis is that proponents of PB-SMT do not seek to address any community other than their own, for they do not feel any need to do so. We demonstrate that this was not always the case; on the contrary, when statistical models of trans-lation were first presented, the language used to describe how such a model might work was very conciliatory, and inclusive. Over the next five years, things changed considerably; once SMT achieved dominance particularly over the rule-based paradigm, it had established a position where it did not need to bring along the rest of the MT community with it, and in our view, this has largely pertained to this day. Having discussed these issues, we discuss three additional issues: the role of automatic MT evaluation metrics when describing PB-SMT systems; the recent syntactic embellishments of PB-SMT, noting especially that most of these contributions have come from researchers who have prior experience in fields other than statistical models of translation; and the relationship between PB-SMT and other models of translation, suggesting that there are many gains to be had if the SMT community were to open up more to the other MT paradigms.


Statistical Machine Translation; Phrase-Based Statistical Machine Translation; Corpus-based Machine Translation; Rule-Based Machine Translation; Example-Based Machine Translation; Machine Translation Evaluation; Syntax; Machine Translation

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