Fully automatic multi-language translation with a catalogue of phrases – successful employment for the Swiss avalanche bulletin

K. Winkler, T. Kuhn

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The Swiss avalanche bulletin is produced twice a day in four languages. Due to the lack of time available for manual translation, a fully automated translation system is employed, based on a catalogue of predefined phrases and predetermined rules of how these phrases can be combined to produce sentences. Because this catalogue of phrases is limited to a small sublanguage, the system is able to automatically translate such sentences from German into the target languages French, Italian and English without subsequent proofreading or correction. Having been operational for two winter seasons, we assess here the quality of the produced texts based on two different surveys where participants rated texts from real avalanche bulletins from both origins, the catalogue of phrases versus manually written and translated texts. With a mean recognition rate of 55 %, users can hardly distinguish between the two types of texts, and give very similar ratings with respect to their language quality. Overall, the output from the catalogue system can be considered virtually equivalent to a text written by avalanche forecasters and then manually translated by professional translators. Furthermore, forecasters declared that all relevant situations were captured by the system with sufficient accuracy. Forecaster’s working load did not change with the introduction of the catalogue: the extra time to find matching sentences is compensated by the fact that they no longer need to double-check manually translated texts. The reduction of daily translation costs is expected to offset the initial development costs within a few years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-35
JournalLanguage Resources and Evaluation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Machine translation
  • Catalogue of phrases
  • Controlled Natural Language
  • Text quality
  • Avalanche warning


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