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The importance of context

On this page, the heading under video reads “Chelsea win puts us back in title race – Wenger”.

My first reaction upon reading this was that it meant that Chelsea had won a game against one of Arsenal’s title rivals, thus helping Arsenal. But my knowledge of the context meant that I knew this wasn’t possible. What it meant was that a win by Arsenal against Chelsea (in tomorrow’s game) would put Arsenal back in the title race.

All the other languages I know would not allow such an ambiguous sentence in the translation. You’d have to either translate it as “win against Chelsea” or “win for Chelsea”. And this is where machine translation is really found wanting. The machine translation does not have the knowledge of context that we have as humans.

Another example of this would be the Catalan sentence “els pinguins saben nadar però no volen”. This could either mean “penguins can swim but don’t fly”, or “penguins swim, but they don’t want to”. Only our general knowledge tells us that the first sentence is the meaning we’re looking for.


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