Leaving ambiguity unresolved

Disambiguation is an essential process in machine translation. Sometimes, however, it seems more rational and logical to leave an ambiguity in the translation. This is the case when (i) there is an ambiguous word in the sentence to be translated; and (ii) the context does not provide an objective reason to choose one of the two occurrences. It seems that in this case, the best translation is the one that leaves the ambiguity intact.

Let’s take an example. Consider the following French sentence: ‘Son palais était en feu.’. The French word ‘palais’ is ambiguous, because it corresponds in English and in Corsican to two different words (palace, palazzu and palate, palatu).

Thus, we have 3 possibilities of translation:

  • His palate was on fire
  • His palace was on fire
  • His palace/palate was on fire

The third translation, in my opinion, is better, because it points out that the context is insufficient to choose one of the two alternatives.

Consider now, on the one hand, the following sentence: ‘Il avait mangé du piment fort. Son palais était en feu.’ Now the context provides an objective motivation to choose one of the two occurence. This yields the following translation: He had eaten some hot pepper. His palate was on fire.

On the other hand, consider the following sentence: ‘Les ennemis du prince avaient lancé des engins incendiaires. Son palais était en feu.’ We also have here an objective reason to choose the other alternative. It translates then: The prince’s enemies had thrown incendiary devices. His palace was on fire.

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