MT = mobile translation in Singapore

GistXL, an English (or Singlish) to Simplified Chinese SMS translation platform embedded in SingTel’s Singapore network, won a Merit Award in the recent Singapore National Infocomm Awards held last week. According to The Straits Times:

GistXL lays claim to be one of the first (free translation systems) in the world to build artificial intelligence into the system. This means, while other “rule-based” systems match an English word to a Chinese one, GistXL sieves through its database – within a fifth of a second – to draw links and contexts between words and phrases.

To be picky, perhaps they meant ‘draw links between words and their context” or “contextualize words in phrases” rather than actually “draw contexts”. And it’s a pity to trot out the old AI saw again. The system is presumably what MT folks call ‘data driven’. According to their blurb, GistXL plans to scale up to 18 languages by the end of 2005.

Clearly, the stripped-down expressive forms (aka controlled language) found in text messaging, together with the platform constraints on volume (GisXL will do a around 25 words per translation) are proving to be a fruitful field for commercial language engineers. It would interesting to know in detail how standardized actual SMS messages are becoming in the various linguistic sub-groups that use them. GistXL for example is focused on the specifics of Singlish (Singapore English), as filtered through the space and typing constraints of SMS. As it happnes, Singaporeans can be pretty good at inputting ‘standard’ English too. In June this year, a student called Kimberly Yeo, broke the world record by typing 26 words into his cell phone in 43.24 seconds. At that rate, he could send 83 messages (or 2,165 words) an hour. A golden egg for his telecoms supplier.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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