Officials of Weidner Communications Inc. of Illinois and the Lado Institute of Washington hope that their joint venture will translate into business success.
They are offering a new approach to translating foreign languages by computer that they say will help, rather than replace, the inadequate number of translators who face rapidly increasing requests for their services.
Weidner is marketing packages of computer programs and equipment for translating from English to French, Spanish and German, or from those languages to English, and from English to Arabic or Portuguese. The company will add English-to-Japanese translation soon. A Tokyo-based translation service, Bravice, now owns 51 percent of Weidner.
The company teamed up here with the Lado Institute, a language school, to form the Lado Institute Translation Division because "we found it difficult to sell a quarter-of-a-million-dollar system by showing a brochure," according to Ludwig Rudel, Weidner's marketing director for the eastern United States.
Weidner uses the system in its translation service in Chicago, and has sold the system to other translation services throughout the country and to about 20 companies--including giant Occidental Petroleum Corp.--for internal use.
The translation programs can be run on DEC PDP11 or Vax minicomputers or on IBM personal computers modified by Weidner, Rudel said. Customers can buy terminals and units that store information on discs, or they can buy just terminals and link them by telephone lines to Weidner's storage facilities at Lado.
They also can buy core dictionaries developed by linguists to load into their storage units. The English-to-Arabic core dictionary contains 7,300 single words and 2,700 idioms, for example.
Programming for each pair of languages includes the grammatical rules necessary for outlining the languages' relationships, enabling a linguist to translate only the word "run," for example, and the computer to use the grammatical rules to enter all the forms of the word.
Rudel believes that the translation system is successful because its developers were willing to accept programming that would not translate every word, but would average 85 percent. A translator then can view the results on the screen of a word processor, complete the translation and polish the text. Translations made by the operator are added to the computer's dictionary.
Material to be translated can be "read" into the system by an optical scanner that will process the equivalent of one page of a book every 20 seconds; it can be typed in, using the terminal's keyboard, or it can be transferred from a magnetic tape or disc or from a word processor.
The system can translate between 5,000 and 6,000 words an hour, increasing a translator's productivity about three to four times, according to Rudel.
But will the machine take the place of human translators?
"I don't really think so," replied Margaret Perscheid, Lado's systems manager. "I see it as a tool." Perscheid and Rudel cited the rising demand for translations, saying they believe that the Weidner system will help translators meet this demand rather than reduce the number of translators.
Among problems that the company faced was modifying terminals and printers to display Arabic and other alphabets and to read from right to left when necessary, according to Larry Gipson, Weidner's vice president for research and development.
The question of who should be credited with creating the translation system generates different answers and is the subject of legal action involving brothers Bruce Wydner and Steve Weidner , who no longer are involved with the company that bears the family name. (Bruce Wydner uses an earlier spelling of the family name.)
The current management of the company, the brothers and lawyers for the three parties agree that Weidner Communications had its genesis in Bruce Wydner's efforts to develop a computerized translation system.
Service as a Mormon missionary in Finland led him to create a translation methodology that he says is based on the perception of language as concepts rather than sounds. Bruce Wydner says that he has professionally translated 11 languages.
He formed a nonprofit organization for research and development into computer translation and received financing from his brother, Steve Weidner, a broker. Steve Weidner, in turn, formed Weidner Communications Inc. to manufacture and market what his brother was developing.
But Bruce Wydner claims that the trustees of his nonprofit organization transferred its assets to Weidner Communications despite his objections and that the company is using his methodology without permission or compensation. He has filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City seeking payment of more than $1 million and a prohibition against the company engaging in any translation work.
"The software programs that we are working with today have all been developed after Bruce Wydner left the company," said Nevil Garrett, Weidner Communications' president. "We are not using any of the work of Bruce Wydner."
As for Steve Weidner, he had recruited investors and formed a limited partnership, which now owns 29 percent of Weidner Communications stock. The limited partners later alleged that there was not full disclosure of relevant information when they were recruited and that the partnership had not been set up according to Securities and Exchange Commission rules. Their dispute with Steve Weidner was submitted to arbitration and resulted in an agreement under which he no longer is with the company.
The investors also have filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City against Steve Weidner and other parties involved in setting up the limited partnership.