Farewell to Babel

Will science become monolingual?

Jack Woodall
Jul 1, 2006

Microsoft recently announced that it is developing a voice translator that will accept spoken English and convert it into spoken Chinese, and vice versa. The demo shows a spoken sentence written out in English, so the speaker can correct it if necessary. Then the program translates the sentence into Chinese, and back-translates it into English for further correction, if necessary. The final version is spoken in Chinese by a voice synthesizer.

The translator is still years from launch, but the idea is that by the time it's debugged and beta-tested, most international business will be conducted in those two languages. One wonders whether, by that time, most scientific literature will also be published in just those two languages, and what this will mean for the other written languages of the world.

I have recently returned from Norway, where I learned that there is a movement to preserve the use of...

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