Choosing the English That’s Right for You: Simplified Technical English and Other Controlled Languages

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Published on October 19, 2008

Author: thecontentwrangler



Presented at Documentation and Training East 2008 (October 29-November 1, 2008) by Brenda Huettner and Alison Huettner.

Simplified Technical English (STE) is a success story for the aerospace industry. Will a simplified English work for your industry as well? This session explores the rationale behind simplified languages, their advantages and their perennial challenges. It surveys controlled languages from their beginnings to the offerings in today’s marketplace. The session will also cover the questions you need to ask to determine what’s right for your situation. Do you need to simplify? Can you adapt an existing language or lexicon? Or should you define your own set of rules and phrases? Where should you begin? What effort would be required?

Choosing the English That’s Right for You Simplified Technical English and Other Controlled Languages Brenda Huettner * Alison Huettner October 31, 2008

The Big Picture Controlled Languages English Swedish GM CASL (Scania) Plain Language CLOUT Caterpillar CTE Attempto French ASD- STE (Dassault) Sun CE Avaya ACE German (Siemens)

What is a controlled language?




Advantages of Controlled Languages More precision, less ambiguity Easier to read and understand More consistent source documentation across an organization Improved retrievability and reuse of information More consistent translations Less expensive human translation Simpler and more accurate machine translation Easier post-processing in general Measurable index of document quality

Disadvantages of Controlled Languages Time-consuming to create Non-trivial to master Some loss of nuance Often less aesthetic Difficult to enforce compliance Difficult to evaluate

What considerations go into creating a controlled language?

Who Is Your Audience?

How Elaborate Is Your Process? Existing software Size of organization Workflow Training burden Number of documents Translation component Human or machine?

What Vocabulary Resources Exist? CE development tools don’t come with the technical vocabulary for your domain Does your organization or your field have a termbank or glossary? In most cases you will build up the technical vocabulary by text-mining your existing documents

What Tools Can You Buy? CE development software Text-mining tools Suggested basic vocabulary May let you choose your grammar rules CE checker software Comprehensive check for vocabulary compliance Various options for grammar checking Translation memory software

Text Mining Tools Extract from your documents a candidate list of technical terms Allow you to review and edit Help you identify synonym groups and choose the standard term E.g., secondary brake, rather than parking brake or emergency brake Can create the foundation of authoring or translation glossaries

Translating Technical Terminology Add translations to your technical glossary The one word ↔ one meaning goal is hard to meet here Multi-noun terms like message server mailbox must be translated as units, as the relationship among the nouns is arbitrary

The Two Basic Grammar Approaches Specify constructions to be avoided Prohibitions can be introduced gradually infinitives Less training effort Checking tends to be heuristic Checker gives specific feedback Specify the constructions that are allowed Comprehensive system; not easy to modify Requires more training effort Checking involves a full parse Checker feedback tells you only if it did or didn’t parse

Controlled English vs. Software Checkers Controlled English Software Checkers A subset of English Check for compliance vocabulary, grammar, with a set of rules and style rules Vary in strictness Often industry-specific Never 100% accurate There are many variants of controlled English for which no automated checker tool exists.

The Conformance Problem The CE definition radically underspecifies the form of acceptable text. It may have passed the checker, but that doesn’t guarantee that your sentence is clear and informative!

The Authoring Problem It’s hard for an author to determine whether a sentence conforms to the controlled language Most full-parse grammar checkers are red light/green light Non-conformance is often hard to fix Worrying about controlled language can be distracting and disruptive for authors

Translation Memory Input need not be as tightly controlled as for machine translation Similar savings in human translation costs

That all sounds very difficult! What controlled languages are currently available?

Controlled English is a wheel reinvented many times

Public CE Initiatives

Proprietary CE Initiatives

CE Research Projects Attempto Controlled English (University of Zurich) Controlled English to Logic Translation (Teknowledge) Common Logic Controlled English (John Sowa) First Order English (Oxford University) ClearTalk (University of Ottawa) Metalog (MIT) Processable English (University of Sydney) PROSPER (Universities of Glasgow, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Karlsruhe, and Tubigen, with IFAD and Prover Technology) KANT (Carnegie Mellon University)

How do you decide what’s right for you?

What are your output requirements? Clarity? Brevity? Reusability? Customizability? Metrics? Quick turnaround? Consistency across Integration with other multiple authors? departments? Multiple output Integration with other formats? software?

Choosing software:

Learn More: Workshop on Controlled Natural Language International Standard for Simplified Technical English U.S. Plain Language Initiative

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