Tag Archives: self-reference

How to translate ‘Cette phrase est en français’ ? (This sentence is in French) – updated

Let us consider the following French sentence: Le comté de Kronoberg est un comté suédois dont le nom signifie en français ‘Couronne de montagne’. It translates into Corsican: A cuntea di Kronoberg hè una cuntea svedese chì u so nome significheghja in francese ‘Curona di muntagna’. (The County of Kronoberg is a Swedish county whose name means in French ‘Mountain crown’.) But it should be translated more accurately as: A cuntea di Kronoberg hè una cuntea svedese situata in u sudu di u paese, è chì u so nome significheghja in corsu ‘Curona di muntagna’ since the words significheghja in francese (means in French) are utterly false.

Now a semantic difficulty is lurking whose core can be related to self-reference: How should we translate ‘Cette phrase est en français’ ? Self-reference stems here from ‘cette phrase’ (this sentence). Litterally, it translates into: This sentence is in French). But a sense-preserving translation would be: This sentence is in English).

A much complicated instance of self-reference within translation is as follows: ‘Cette phrase ne comprend que sept mots’ (This sentence contains only seven words). It translates into Corsican: ‘Ss’infrasata ùn cumprendi ch’è setti paroli. It is also true of the Corsican translation, but false of the English one, which includes only six words. Arguably, a better English translation, which is sense-preserving is then:
This sentence contains only six words. Such translation ability is currently beyond the scope of present MT. We can tag it as an ability that would be required from superintelligent MT. It would then include: identifying sef-referent parts of discourse, such as: this sentence, these words, this proposition, this paragraph, this text, … But not all self-referring discourse is concerned here. For example, the Liar paradox (this sentence is false) is irrelevant here, since we only place ourselves from the standpoint of MT. Interestingly, such superintelligent ability also requires some meta-knowledge, i.e. the language of the source text and of the target text. For a shift from the source language to the target language is needed here.

Language self-reference again

Language self-reference is not as uncommon as one could think at first glance. In the above excerpt, we find another of that issue of ‘language self-reference’ (or ‘target language shift’). French ‘le surnom d’« Old Reliable » (en français, « le Vieux Fiable »).’ should translate into Corsican: ‘u sopranome d'” Old Reliable “ (in corsu, ” u Vechju Affidevule “; in English: The nickname of “Old Reliable”.

Hence, a machine translator should include a feature that handles properly this ‘language self-reference’ issue. In conclusion: to implement: this target language shift feature.