On-Line Translation Services for the Lao Language



Thanks to a continuous effort made over the last 30 years, the Lao system of writing has now achieved a satisfactory level of computerization: mature fonts, input tools and word processors are now available and the Lao Unicode is used on the Internet. So a lot of people is now waiting for what may be looked as a natural suite of this computerization effort: a high quality machine translation service that would allow the Lao people to read English, Chinese, Japanese, French or whatsoever language, translated in their own one.

In contrast with the pioneering age where isolated individuals could offer complete solutions, the much more complex machine translation step must rely on groups of linguists and computer scientists to get through. For example, the order of magnitude for producing a good quality Lao-English / English-Lao machine translation system is estimated to 50 men-years (Lafourcade, 1994), only for the lingware, when an add-in such as LaoWord which provides a full set of word processing functions only requires about 5 men-years. So even if the methods used are adapted to the computerization of minority languages (Berment, 2004), it may take time before a good translation software is available for the Lao language.

On the way of this highly desirable future, an interesting translation support can be brought to professional and occasional translators by simpler tools mostly based on the technology developed for word processors. In this paper, we present LaoTrans, a set of on-line translation services that offers, for the first time, a translation support on the Web (dictionary, word for word translation of texts). Doing so, we will see how the reuse of a technology previously developed dramatically eased the realization of this new software. Then, looking towards the future, we will also show how the LaoTrans experience can contribute to the design of a full machine translation service.