Translingual Information Access

Robert Frederking, Teruko Mitamura, Eric Nyberg, Jaime Carbonell

Language Technologies Institute
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Ave. Pittsburgh PA 15213


We present an attempt at a coherent vision of an end-to-end translingual information retrieval system. We begin by presenting a sample of the broad range of possibilities. We then present an overall workstation architecture, followed by two possible approaches to the actual translingual IR stage presented in detail. Ranking retrieved documents, query-relevant summarization, assimilation of retrieved information, and system evaluation are all discussed in turn.

To be presented at the 1997 AAAI Spring Symposium on Cross-Language Text and Speech Retrieval.

Introduction: Beyond Traditional Information Retrieval

Traditional information retrieval (IR) offers a suite of very useful technologies, such as inverted key-word files, word-weighting methods including TF-IDF, precision and recall metrics, vector-space document modeling, relevance feedback, controlled-vocabulary indexing of text collections, and so on. Traditional IR technologies, however, have significant limitations, among others the following:
  • Text retrieval is confined to one language (Salton 1970). The query and the document collection must be in the same language, typically English.
  • Success metrics are confined to relevance-only measures (Salton and McGill 1983), i.e. precision and recall, without regard to redundancy or suitability of the documents retrieved. An IR system that retrieves 10 copies of the same document is considered superior (by TREC standards) to one that retrieves 9 very relevant but very different documents.
  • Retrieved texts are presented verbatim to the user, possibly with keywords highlighted, rather than summarized, gisted, grouped, or otherwise processed.
  • Classification of documents into index categories, such as those in library catalogs is a purely manual process, and as such it is laborious, expensive, time-consuming, and lacking in consistency. Recent advances in statistical learning methods are making it possible to semi or fully automate the text categorization process.
  • Translingual Query, Retrieval, and Summarization

    Let us first cast the problem of translingual IR (TIR) in its simplest terms, and subsequently revisit the surrounding complexity. Assume a query QS in the the user's language (definitionally, the source language, SL). The central problem is to retrieve relevant documents not just in the same source language, but also in each target language of interest (TL1, TL2, ... TLk). Let us start with a single target language. Let [DS] be a document collection to be searched in the source language, and [DT] be another document collection to be searched, but in the target language. In order to search the [DS] with QS, all of the standard IR techniques can be used directly (weighted key-words, vector cosine similarity, latent semantic indexing (LSI), and so forth). But none of these techniques apply directly to search [DT] with QS. Possible approaches include:
  • Translate the collection -- Convert [DT] into a collection in the source language [D'S] by manual or machine translation. Then search [D'S] with QS.
  • Translate the query -- Convert QS into Q'T by manual or machine translation. Then search [DT] with Q'T, and if desired translate the retrieved documents manually or by MT from TL into SL.
  • Translingual LSI (Dumais et al. 1996) -- If a parallel corpus of documents exists, e.g. a subset of [DS] where every DS has a known translation in [DT], then use this parallel document corpus to train an LSI on the vocabulary association across both languages, as well as within language (simply use the union of words in each DS and corresponding DT). Then query [DT] with QS directly using the LSI method, and if desired, translate the retrieved documents in TL into SL.
  • Translingual Relevance Feedback -- If a parallel corpus exists (as above), query the subset of [DS] in the parallel corpus with QS and use the TL versions of the retrieved documents as a secondary query into all of [DT], with target document terms reweighted for TF-IDF in the TL, essentially performing a translinguistic version or pseudo relevance feedback. If the user is willing to provide relevance judgements on the SL retrieved documents from the parallel corpus, then the process is full translinguistic relevance feedback.
  • Translingual Conceptual Categorization -- If there is a training set of documents in both SL and TL languages that have been categorized into a controlled indexing vocabulary (such as MESH terms for MEDLINE, or DEWEY-catalog entries), then perform statistical training to find mappings between the conceptual indexing vocabulary and each of SL and TL. Then, new documents in either SL or TL can be retrieved via a single common set of index terms.
  • Interlingual Conceptual Analysis -- If the documents in each language are within a domain (e.g. computers or electronics, or medical records), then a partial or full conceptual analysis (e.g. parsing at the semantic level) may prove feasible (Mauldin 1991, Jacobs et al. 1992). These conceptual structures are essentially the same as produced in the first stage of Machine Translation, and can be used to directly index documents in multiple languages (Mitamura, et al., 1991).
  • Clearly, these methods increase in complexity, and the techniques range from using statistical learning, to crude translation for indexing, to precise conceptual analysis for both indexing and translation. It seems to us that an appropriate research strategy is to begin by protoyping the simpler methods, based on current technology. If these yield good performance, then we plan to enhance the prototypes and scale them up to usable systems for large-scale applications. If the simpler methods prove insufficient, we propose to explore more complex and methods, rather than scaling up the simpler methods.

    To date, the LSI method has been investigated for cross-linguistic query, starting with work at Bellcore by Landauer & Littman and later Dumais, with partial success (Dumais et al. 1996). But the other methods have not yet been investigated in any depth, nor have there been many systematic cross-method comparisons. In addition to Davis & Dunning's work (Davis & Dunning 1996), we have recently performed an experiment systematically comparing various methods (Carbonell et al. 1997). In our experiments, a simpler technique related to LSI but without its attempt at dimension reduction produced equivalent results at lower processing cost: the Generalized Vector Space Model (GVSM).

    Integrating Translingual IR into an Analyst's Workstation

    In order for TIR to be used successfully, it must be integrated into an environment with other productivity tools, including the ability to produce at least a rough translation of the retrieved documents, and the ability to handle the ever-larger deluge of documents that will be retrieved when the information sphere goes from English to all major languages. We envision the following stages in translingual processing within such an analyst's workstation:
  • Actual Translingual Retrieval. In this stage, we either transform the source language query into a query or set of queries in the target language(s), or we avoid the need to translate the query at all. In either event, the result is a set of target language documents believed to match the query to some degree.
  • Ranking the Retrieved Documents. As in monolingual IR, the documents retrieved must be ranked. We believe a new metric, MMR, described below, is much better suited to the current deluge of information than previous techniques.
  • Summarization of the Results. The retrieved documents, in several languages, are summarized in the source (query) language; the summaries are then translated and made available to the information gatherer, who may decide to initiate a full translation of a particular document of interest.
  • Selective Assimilation of the Results. Retrieved documents which are of interest are fully translated from the target language to the source (query) language, for assimilation by the analyst. This may itself be a multiple-stage process, as described below.
  • These steps are illustrated in Figure 1, and will be described in the remainder of this paper, followed by a suggestion for evaluating overall system performance. We expect that a multi-stage design will be necessary in many actual real-world applications, with fast but crude techniques performing an intial filter before higher-quality but slower techniques are applied.

    Specific Translingual Information Retrieval techniques

    Of the different methods for moving towards true TIR, two of the most immediately practical are to exploit a parallel corpus with (pseudo-)relevance-feedback or to apply knowledge-based methods to translate the query.

    Translingual Relevance Feedback

    If even a modest parallel corpus of documents can be located (or created) for the source and target language pair, then we can exploit the tried-and-true relevance feedback method to perform translingual query, as outlined in Figure 2. The process requires us to perform two queries, one on the parallel corpus to retrieve SL/TL pairs by searching the SL side only with QT, and the other to search the full pure-TL (and potentially much larger) document database with the TL part of the retrieved documents as a query. Using the Rocchio formula, we can improve on this pseudo-relevance feedback (RF) process if the analyst is willing to provide relevance judgements for the retrieved SL documents from the parallel corpus. With such judgements, we can construct a better term-weighted query for the TL search, essentially producing true translingual RF. Of course, this RF process can also be used to enhance the SL query and search other SL databases at no extra cost to or involvement from the analyst.

    The envisioned mechanism is shown in Figure 2, and encompasses the following steps:

    1. The analyst types in a source language query QS;
    2. Parallel corpus (source half) is searched by an IR engine using QS;
    3. One of the following methods is used to search the TL document database:
    4. From retrieved SL/TL document pairs, the TL document contents are used as a new query QT to search the TL document database; or
    5. The retrieved SL/TL document pairs are first given back to the analyst, in order to scan the SL documents for relevance; then the Rocchio formula is used for both SL and TL document database search.
    6. If desired, the retrieved TL documents are summarized and/or translated for analyst inspection.
    A major advantage of this method is that no translation at all needs to be done in the early stages of information gathering, when the largest volumes of information must be processed.

    Knowledge-Based Methods for Translingual IR

    When the translingual information retrieval is within a well-defined domain, we expect that the infusion of knowledge-based techniques from the fields of natural language processing (NLP) and machine translation (MT) can provide the following benefits:
  • Effective short-query translation through expansion translation;
  • Improved recall through linguistic generalization;
  • Improved precision by modelling linguistic relations;
  • Truly semantic multilingual search through conceptual querying.
  • Query Expansion Translation: When translating a query, it is not possible to do a reliable exact translation, especially because queries tend to include isolated words and phrases out of context, as well as possibly full clauses or sentences. Any automated translation risks selecting the wrong meaning of the query terms, and therefore the wrong translation. Hence, we propose to perform an expansion translation, in which all meanings of all query terms are generated, properly weighed for base-line and co-occurrence statistics, so that no meaning is lost. On a preliminary experiment using Lycos®, this method yielded recall results comparable to a carefully hand crafted target-language query, though at some degradation in precision. One reason for this is that the documents themselves serve as filters, since it is unlikely that a single document will hit one sense of each term unless they are coherent sense-choices. To the degree that we can enhance the query translation by template extraction and deeper semantic analysis, as described later in this section, we should be able to recover the loss in precision. Once the query is expanded/translated into QT, it is used for retrieval, and the retrieved DT's can be summarized and/or translated as discussed in following sections.

    Linguistic Generalization: Let's assume a scenario where the information gatherer wants to find data related to mergers and acquisitions. He is immediately faced with two issues for which NLP techniques provide assistance:

  • Determining the set of relevant keywords.
    Keyword search will perform an exact match, but in many cases the information gatherer is interested in finding documents which match keyword synonyms, as well. This form of generalization can be similar to thesaurus lookup (e.g., finding all words with the same part of speech that have identical or similar meaning, e.g., ``acquire'', ``buy'', ``take over'', etc.). A more sophisticated type of keyword generalization might involve category switch (to a different part of speech); for example, nominalization would yield noun forms: ``acquisition'', ``purchase'', ``takeover'', etc. Recall can be improved significantly if this kind of generalization is provided automatically for the information gatherer. Existing IR systems achieve partial success through the use of general thesauri, which can be less useful in specialized semantic domains (for example, linking ``acquire'' to ``get'' may not help precision or recall in a joint venture domain).
  • Determining relevant variations on keywords.
    For example, to find information on mergers and acquisitions, one might immediately think of ``acquire'' as good keyword to search on, but in fact the morphological variants of ``acquire'' (e.g., ``acquired'', ``acquires'', ``acquiring'', etc.) are more likely to occur in running text (such as newspaper articles). Having a system that can automatically determine the right set of morphological variants would cut down on the human effort that is otherwise required to boost recall. The simplified morphological processing (known as stemming) which is used in traditional IR systems can be effective, but is prone to creation of incorrect forms (e.g., ``sing'' -> ``s'', etc.).
  • Linguistic Relations: Linguistic generalization techniques like those sketched above can help recall, but they do not necessarily help precision. In fact, increasing the number of possible search terms increases the chance of a false match due to random coincidence of terms. To make the most of linguistic generalization, it is necessary to improve precision through the use of linguistic relations.

    The real cause of impreciseness in multiple keyword search is that all information about the relationships between the words is lost. A typical example is the noun phrase ``victims of teenage crime'', which is likely to match documents describing ``teenage victims of crime'' in a keyword-style search. Only the loosest forms of linguistic relation -- strict adjacency and/or near adjacency -- are typically supported in current on-line search systems, and highly-frequent function words (like the preposition ``of'') are often ignored. If it were possible to parse each document and represent the linguistic structure of the portions of text which seem to match the query, this type of bad match could be ruled out. For example, a syntactic parse results in different structures for the two ``victim'' sentences; if matching during search included parsing and unification, these two structures would not match, thus boosting precision.

    Conceptual Querying: The ultimate goal in retrieval is to match all the documents whose contents are relevant, regardless of their surface form. Generalizing the surface form (through morphological variation, category switch, and synonym match) can help, but what if we want to retrieve documents from multiple languages? We can extend the notion of a ``thesaurus'' for keyword synonyms to include terms from multiple languages, but this becomes difficult to manage as the lexicon of search terms and number of languages grows. Ideally, we would like to combine the notion of linguistic generalization and linguistic relations into a language-neutral query form which can be used to retrieve multilingual documents.

    The notion of conceptual querying for English is not new. The FERRET system (Mauldin, 1991b) presented the idea of matching on the conceptual structure of a text, rather than keywords, to improve precision and recall. The TIPSTER/SHOGUN system (Jacobs, et al., 1993), a large-scale elaboration of this theme, retrieved articles on joint ventures and microelectronics through the use of template matching, where the particular situations of interest (such as a corporate takeover) were modelled via semantic frames whose heads (called template activators) were the set of relevant terms (e.g., the verbs ``buy'', ``acquire'', ``merge'', etc.) while their slot fillers were the set of relevant object descriptors (e.g., company names, dates, numbers, units of currency, etc.).

    The use of semantic relations to model meaning independent of surface form has also been used in the machine translation field for multilingual translation, in Knowledge-Based MT (KBMT). For example, the KANT system (Mitamura et al., 1991) uses a conceptual form called interlingua to model the linguistic relations among the source terms in a deep semantic representation. The interlingua captures domain actions, objects, properties, and relations in a manner which is language-independent, and is used as an intermediate form during translation.

    We believe a synthesis of these approaches, referred to here as conceptual query, can provide a convenient framework for the use of linguistic generalization (to improve recall) and linguistic relations (to improve precision), while also providing support for multilingual search. The basic idea is embodied in these steps:

    1. The user specifies a query in his native language;
    2. The query is parsed into conceptual form, preserving relevant linguistic relations in corresponding semantic slots (semantic roles);
    3. All relevant surface generalizations (in the source language) are compiled into a set of search templates, which contain all the relevant morphologic variations, category switches, etc.;
    4. All relevant surface generalizations (in the supported target languages) are compiled into a set of search templates, which contain all the relevant morphologic variations, category switches, etc.;
    5. The templates are matched against the database, and relevant documents are retrieved for the user. A rapid-deployment approach which is under investigation involves the use of existing keyword indices (e.g., Lycos) to locate potentially relevant texts, so that the more computationally-intensive methods required for template matching are focussed on a small subset of the entire database.

    Ranking retrieved documents: Maximal Marginal Relevance

    Searching any very large document data base, including the World Wide Web, quickly leads to the realization that there are not just more documents than anyone could ever assimilate, but also there are more relevant documents than anyone could ever assimilate. Fortunately there is a high degree of redundancy in the information content of long lists of documents retrieved by IR engines. If only we could reduce or eliminate this redundancy we would have a much more manageable subset of relevant documents that nonetheless span the information space. We created the MMR formula for precisely this purpose: ranking documents both with respect to query relevance and with respect to novelty of information content, where we define the latter as non-redundancy, i.e. information not already contained in previous documents already included in the ranked list for the analyst's inspection. The MMR formula below gives a credit for relevance and a penalty for redundancy, with a tunable parameter lambda (where DB is the total document database, and RL the already produced ranked list of documents):

    Summarization of Results

    We envision the following framework for presenting multilingual search results to the information gatherer:
    1. Based on the quality of the match to the query that was used to retrieve each document, documents are scored and sorted using MMR;
    2. Documents scoring above a certain threshold are selected for potential display to the user;
    3. A short summary is produced for each selected document, and that summary is translated to the source (query) language;
    4. Information about each document (origin, language, score, summary) is presented to the user in an interface which allows him to select specific documents for additional processing (such as selective assimilation, described below).
    We are currently developing methods of automatically creating summaries of documents. Unlike earlier work (Luhn 1958; Paice 1990), we focus on generating query-relevant summaries (Carbonell 1996), where a document will be summarized with respect to the information need of the analyst, as expressed in his/or her query, and possibly other available profile information. Summarization is particularly useful for TIR because document access is far faster if only the summaries of retrieved target language documents need be translated, with further material only translated upon drill-down requests. (Translation is a much more computation-intensive and time-consuming process than summarization.)

    Selective Assimilation of Results

    Multi-Engine Machine Translation (MEMT) (Frederking and Nirenburg 94) is designed for general purpose, human-aided MT. The MEMT architecture is well-suited to the task of selective assimilation of retrieved documents.

    In the MEMT architecture, shown in Figure 3, an input text is sent to several MT engines in parallel, with each engine employing a different MT technology. Each engine attempts to translate the entire input text, segmenting each sentence in whatever manner is most appropriate for its technology, and putting the resulting translated output segments into a shared chart data structure after giving each segment a score indicating the engine's internal assessment of the quality of the output segment. These target language segments are indexed in the chart based on the positions of the corresponding source language segments. Thus the chart contains multiple, possibly overlapping, alternative translations.

    Since the scores produced by the engines are estimates of variable accuracy, we use statistical language modelling techniques adapted from speech recognition research to select the best set of outputs that completely account for the source language input (Brown and Frederking 95). These selection techniques attempt to produce the best overall result, taking the probability of transitions between segments into account as well as modifying the quality scores of individual segments. In essence, we do Bayesian-style training to maximize the probability of a correct translation given the available options, their estimated quality, and the well-formedness of the output translation as determined by a trigram language model. Thus our MEMT techniques are an example of integrating statistical and symbolic approaches; the MT engines that we have employed to date have all been symbolic engines, while the integration of their outputs is primarily statistical (Brown and Frederking 95).

    The MEMT architecture makes it possible to exploit the differences between MT technologies. Differences in translation quality and domain size can be exploited by merging the best results from different engines. In the earlier Pangloss unrestricted translation system, when Knowledge-Based MT (KBMT) could produce high-quality, in-domain translations, its results were used; when Example-Based MT (EBMT) found a high-quality match, its results were used. When neither of these engines produced a high-quality result, the wider-coverage transfer-based engine supplied a lower-quality translation, which was still much better than leaving the source language untranslated. As implemented in Pangloss, unchosen alternative translations could be selected by the user through a special-purpose interface that interacted with the chart representation (Frederking et al. 93), which greatly increased the usefulness of the transfer-based translations.

    The application of this architecture to the current problem is clear. Once the user selects a translated summary for further investigation, the selected document is translated by the MEMT system, with KBMT, EBMT, transfer, and possibly other MT engines combining to give the user an initial, fully-automatic rough translation.

    The user can examine the automatically translated document, and if the document and situation warrant it, the user can proceed using human-aided MT (HAMT) features as described above to quickly and easily clean up the initial translation to produce a high-quality translation of the document for dissemination, or incorporation with other analyses.

    Evaluating System Performance

    In order to evaluate the usefulness of more advanced techniques in a given domain, experiments must be undertaken to measure the recall and precision of existing methods (e.g., keyword search) vs. more sophisticated techniques such as template matching and partial template matching. For example, to measure the increase in precision vs. processing time, one might plot one against the other in a graph, to determine at one point diminishing returns make further efforts unproductive. Since the more sophisticated symbolic methods we are considering require both additional processing time (impacting the user) and development time (impacting start-up cost), it is important to determine whether the improvements in recall, precision, and multilinguality are sufficient payoff.

    In future work we will complete an initial implementation of the conceptual search method, and evaluate its usefulness on a variety of domains. Since large amounts of processing are currently required for NLP and KBMT methods, it is likely that at least in the initial implementation these will be useful mainly when used as a batch process, or when applied to a text or domain that is already pre-selected for relevance (example domains include on-line newsletters about a particular topic of interest, daily flow in specialized newsgroups, etc.).


    We have attempted to present a coherent vision of a translingual information retrieval system, illustrating the broad range of possibilities with two specific examples. While we have already conducted initial experiments in this area (Carbonell et al. 1997), much experimentation remains to be done, in order to see whether combinations of old techniques or novel translingual techniques provide the necessary performance to produce a useful translingual analyst's workstation.


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